How to Teach Children with Autism to Respond to Their Names

A child not responding to his name when called can be one of the first hallmark signs of autism. This is considered a “red flag” on the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers or the M-CHAT and a diagnostic indicator on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule –known as the ADOS. Since many children with autism have difficulty in this area, I thought I would address it in this week’s video blog.

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I created and have used the following procedure to teach children to respond to their names with dozens of children with autism and found it to be very successful. The key here is to pair the child’s name with improving conditions which is called reinforcement since any behavior that is reinforced will maintain or increase. The following is an excerpt from page 106 of my book (The Verbal Behavior Approach).

First, tell everyone in the environment to stop using, or limit the use of the child’s name throughout the day. Most importantly, do not link the child’s name to demands (e.g.: “Dennis, go get your shoes”, “Dennis come here”, etc.). Limiting the use of the child’s name will actually help him to learn to respond when his name is called, because he won’t tune it out as part of a long list of demands.

Next gather several of Dennis’ strongest consumable or controllable reinforcers (chips and bubbles, for instance) and go behind him when he’s engaged in another activity. Call his name while standing behind him and then immediately touch his shoulder and hand him a chip or blow bubbles.   Gradually fade your prompts by standing a foot or two further away and by delaying the touching of his shoulder by a second or two. By using this procedure, Dennis will learn that when he hears his name, good things happen.

For the best results, I recommend using this procedure in both home and school environments and I also recommend taking data every trial (10 or 20 trials per day) so that your distance and the reinforcement can be systematically faded out as your client or child becomes successful with responding to his name.

For more tips on how to teach your client or child with autism to respond to their name, be sure to get your free naming cheat sheet here.

If you’re watching this video blog anywhere other than on my blog page at Mary Barbera.com hop on over to my website and leave me a comment there or share this video blog on your favorite social media channel. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next week.