To investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of early autism intervention with the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) implemented with low intensity in a community service in Europe.
Subjects were boys (n = 13, ages 34-54 months, mean age 43.3 months) consecutively diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in a regional autism center in Austria. The subjects either received the ESDM intervention for 4.6 hours weekly over 12 months (n = 7) or intervention as usual (n = 6). Feasibility of the ESDM intervention was evaluated by parent and teacher questionnaires, ESDM fidelity measures, and therapists’ feedback. Developmental status was assessed through standardized instruments (Mullen Scales of Early Learning [MSEL], Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales Second Edition, Communicative Development Inventory, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Behavior Inventory [PDDBI], Parenting Sense of Competence Scale) at baseline and after intervention.
The ESDM intervention was delivered with high fidelity (>80%) by a newly trained multiprofessional team. Acceptability by parents was rated as high. The ESDM was compatible with both family and preschool routines without any major adaptations. The ESDM group showed a trend toward improved receptive language (MSEL receptive language; p = 0.09, effect size [ES] = 0.72) and reduction in parent-reported core autism symptoms (PDDBI Autism Composite Score; p = 0.04; ES = 0.95). No such improvement was noted in the control group.
Low-intensity implementation of the ESDM in a non-English-speaking community service context is feasible. Although outcomes from this small feasibility study should be interpreted with caution, our findings suggest a more favorable response to the ESDM intervention group compared with the control group.