Getting an autistic child’s attention by drawing an object of interest close to a human face is a technique employed by Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) therapy. Dads instinctively do the same thing, shaking a rattle close to their own faces in front of their babies. Who invented the drawing an object of interest close to a human face technique, the Early Start folks in Denver, or dear old dad?
Parents intuitively use props, coaching their babies to pay special attention to faces, voices, and human activities. Parents are drafted by toddlers into playing hide-and-seek for the umpteenth time after an exhausting day at work. And, in so doing, just like the ESDM therapist, they are improving the cognitive, language, and social skills of their children.
ESDM therapy for autistic children, 18-30 month of age, is a more intensive version of what parents do automatically—focusing a child’s attention on the rubber ducky, saying “ducky, ducky,” while squeezing, as ducky is passed from adult to child.
ESDM has been scientifically proven to reduce social deficits, repetitive behaviors, and inattention. Also, after ESDM training, autistic children’s developmental quotient (an IQ test for very young children) goes up by 10.6 points, and brain areas activated when a child sees faces, light up as brightly as they would in normal four year olds. Imaging shows that the brain undergoes many other desirable changes as well.
If ESDM is so similar to what parents do anyway, why doesn’t “ducky, ducky” with daddy yield the same results? If daddy played intensive one-on-one games like “ducky” for a total of 2,000 hours, it would!—that’s two hours, twice daily, five days a week, for two years. When a small life is at stake, the return on this effort is larger than life.
Parents, who have the luxury of hiring a specialist in ESDM or similar programs, such as Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, or Engagement and Regulation therapy, are lucky as duckies!
Parents, who can’t pay for ESDM, might consider what the terms early start, joint attention, symbolic play, and engagement and regulation really mean. If they ardently want all of these for their child, they must spend 2,000 hours teaching the art of play.*
*for more information, see Scientific American October 2013, pages 74-77.