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Child not Responding to Name: What to Do!

Many parents worry when their child is not responding to his name.  Children with significant social delays, such as those with autism, often don’t respond to their name when called.  This makes it difficult for adults to get their attention or call them away from what they’re doing.  It also makes it difficult for them to participate in social interactions with peers as they may not be aware that someone else is talking to them.  Keep in mind though, that just because a child is not responding to his name, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has autism.  There are many symptoms of autism that must be present before that diagnosis can be made.  Children without autism can also have difficulty with this, especially if they have significant communication delays or cognitive delays.  These steps will help you increase your child’s ability to respond to his name.

Respond in Isolated Setting

The first thing we must do is teach your child to respond to his name when there are very few distractions.  For this you will need to go to an area with few distractions for your child.  This may be at the kitchen table or in a room that doesn’t have many toys or fun things going on.

Sit down with your child in an isolated environment.  Make sure you have something to reward your child with, such as a favorite toy, favorite food, or a hug and a tickle if your child likes that.  Wait until your child is looking away from you and say his name.  If he looks at you, reward him with whatever you’ve chosen.  If he doesn’t look at you, say his name again louder and make some sort of commotion like waving or tapping the table.  Keep doing this until he looks over at you.  Reward him with what you’ve chosen.  Each time you reward him, make sure you tell him what you’re rewarding him for.  Say “you heard your name, good looking!”.  Keep doing this and make sure you try just saying his name first and then only resort to waving or tapping if he doesn’t respond.

Keep doing this until your child will look at you when you say his name about 80% of the time in this isolated setting (few distractions).  At that point, you will be ready to move on to the next step.  Keep in mind that shorter, more frequent sessions work best to work on this skill as he may quickly tire of looking at you every time he hears his name.

Respond in a Structured Setting

Now that your child can respond to his name with no distractions around, we want to increase the amount of distractions slightly and see how he does.

The next time you are ready to work on this skill, sit down with your child in a location that has more distractions than the last one.  Go into his room where there are more toys or in the living room where there is a TV.  Do the same activity from the last step where you say his name and reward him if he looks at you.  If he doesn’t look at you, say his name again louder and make some sort of commotion that will catch his attention.  Then, reward him when he does look at you.  This may be harder for him now that there are more distractions.  Make sure that you give him a moment to play between each time you try this.  You want to make sure that he is focused on something else when you call his name so that he is actually practicing bringing himself out of what he’s doing instead of simply continuing to look at you once his focus is already on you.

Keep doing this until your child will look at you when you say his name about 80% of the time.  By the time you’re ready to move on, you shouldn’t need to wave and cause a commotion to catch your child’s attention.  He should be able to respond to just his name.

Respond in an Unstructured Setting

Once your child can respond to you when he’s sitting down to work on it, we want to increase his ability to respond to his name at any time.

Wait until your child is busy doing something, such as playing with a toy or looking at a book.  Stand relatively close to your child and say his name.  Pause for a moment to see if he looks at you.  If he does, go ahead and reward him just like you did in the last steps.  Make sure you tell him “good looking” so he knows why he’s being rewarded.  If he doesn’t look at you, keep getting louder and more obnoxious until he does look at you.  Go ahead and reward him for looking.  Keep doing this until you are able to back off of how loud and obnoxious you make it.  Eventually we want him to respond to just his name without needing you to catch his attention first.  Keep in mind that we’re not expecting perfection and even children without language problems don’t respond to their names every time it is called.  As your child gets better at this, start calling his name from farther and farther away.  Eventually, your child should be able to respond even if you say his name from another room.  You will need to increase your volume though for this one.

Keep doing this in a variety of settings and with a variety of people until your child is responding to his name most of the time.  Keep in mind that even children who have no difficulty with social skills sometimes don’t respond to their own name, especially if they are very into whatever they are doing, so don’t expect perfection from your child either.

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