Autism program to be rolled out in Katherine

Roxanne Fitzgerald

Katherine is set to become part of the first evidence-based early intervention program for young children with Autism. 

Darwin based company, Early Start Australia, announced last week it would roll out the the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) for children with autism, as part of its overall service delivery.

Senior occupational therapist Shannon Hallatt of Early Start Australia said the company is currently contacting local organisations to determine the most needed services. 

“We are excited to be expanding services to the Katherine region,” she said. 

“We know that with many children, and particularly those with a diagnosis of autism, the earlier you can start therapy services with the child, the better the long-term outcomes for the child.”

As an accredited NDIS provider, Early Start Australia works with a diverse range of children and families to support positive life outcomes.

“In the past we have had great relationships with local schools, so we are looking forward to reconnecting with the community,” Ms Hallatt said. 

“Over the coming months, we will be providing both occupational therapy and speech pathology services and we plan to add paediatric physiotherapy later in the year. 

“We are unsure of the frequency of visits at this stage as it depends on feedback from our customers. We are providing services to Nhulunbuy every 2 weeks with a combination of 'in person' and telehealth appointments. This allows us to be flexible in the way we provide services, and also support parents and teachers more frequently.”  

Developed by the MIND Institute in California, ESDM is a comprehensive evidence-based behavioural early intervention program for children with autism or similar developmental needs, aged one to four years. 

A randomised clinical trial of the ESDM, conducted over five years at the University of Washington, found that children in the ESDM intervention group showed far greater improvements across a range of measures when compared to children attending other community-based therapy programs.

“The ESDM model is unique in that therapists can train parents, teachers, childcare workers and assistants to provide the direct intervention,” Ms Hallatt said. 

“Education is a large part of the ESDM, and this provides children with many more learning opportunities throughout the course of their day. This model of training the 'team around the child' has significantly better results than a traditional therapy model where a a child may attend for 30-60 minutes once per week or fortnight.”

Services are being expanded to include Katherine, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Jabiru and children can be seen in the home, school or community setting.  

Therapists are also available for online consultations.

Funding supports may be available through Medicare, NDIS and Private Health.

“As an organisation, we have a strong focus on supporting our therapy team, meaning they have exceptional levels of training, clinical support and mentoring. Consistency of therapy provider is important to families and this is one of the cornerstones of our services,” Ms Hallatt said. 

Early Start Australia is a national organisation which delivers evidence based early intervention therapy services to children and families around the country.