How to Teach Children with Autism to Respond to Their Names

Hi I’m Dr. Mary Barbara, autism mom, board certified behavior analyst, and best-selling author. Last week, my video blog was all about not overusing a child’s name, especially when placing a demand or saying no. But we want our clients and children to learn to respond to their names when called which is a huge skill that many children with autism struggle with. A child not responding to his name once called can be one of the first hallmark signs of autism. This is considered a red flag on the Modified Checklist for Autism and toddlers or the M-Chat and a diagnostic indicator on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule known as the ADOS. So since many children with autism have difficulty responding to their name, I thought I would address it in this week’s video blog. I created and have used the following procedure to teach children to respond to their names with dozens of children with autism and have 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’s reinforced should 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, as I said last week in the last video blog, do not link the child’s name to demands such as “Dennis go get your shoes,” “Dennis come here.” Limiting the use of the child’s name will actually help him to learn to respond to his name when called because he won’t tune you out as part of a long list of demands. Next, gather several of Dennis’s reinforcers which should be his strongest consumable or controllable reinforcers, such as chips or bubbles and then go behind him when he’s engaged in another activity, you have your chips and bubbles, call his name while standing behind him and then immediately touch a shoulder and hand him a chip or blow the bubbles. Gradually fade your prompts by standing a foot or two farther away and by delaying the touching of a shoulder by a second or two. By using this procedure, Dennis will learn that when he hear’s his name good things happen. For best results, I recommend using this procedure in both the home and school environments and I also recommend taking data every trial for 10 or 20 trials per day so that your distance and the reinforcement can be systematically faded out and your client will become more successful with responding to his name. If you’re watching this video blog anywhere other than on my blog page at, 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.

24 thoughts on “How to Teach Children with Autism to Respond to Their Names”

  1. Do you start this process when they are already engaged in something, like watching TV? (TV really distracts my son).

  2. How do you fade out the reinforcements? Has a child ever had tantrums/meltdowns associating the reinforcement with his/her name?

  3. Hi Mary, Thank you for the great information. I went on your site for your workshops, I clicked on the 1-3 year old section and watched your video. It says to click the link for the workshop but I am not seeing any links or anywhere to click for workshops. Is this opportunity still available? Thanks!

  4. @Mary Barbera my little one is 18 months at the moment and most of the times he is not responding when we calling him by his name, also is not pointing out things and walking sometimes on the toes (not very often), when running he keeps his right hand up and sometimes when he is angry he tries to pull his hair out and all he can say at the moment is "mama, nana, tata, papapa, baba, lalala and some other sounds,but he is smiling a lot back to us, he is laughing, he is making a lot of eyes contact, he likes to play with children, he likes to give us lots of hugs and asking for it; we realize it couple of days ago abd we start thinking that maybe, because he spend between 1- 2 hours and up to 3 -4 hours per day in front of Tv, tablet or phone (we both went to work and our mother in law was looking after him ) from the age 8-9 moths is the reason why he is having this symptoms. 2 days ago we decide to stop him from watching any gadgets or Tv and we can tell that is different, believe or not he start playing more with the football, pushing one of the cars on the floor and not playing with the wheels like he used to do and he started looking to us when we calling him by name from very close distance twice a day; from our point of view there is a small difference in a pozitive way…My question is if there is any chance that this more a virtual "autism" and not a classic one?

  5. Thank you Doctor. I am a mom of a 2 years 9 months old girl diagnosed with autism .we live in China. The environment is a little challenging to her because of lack of interaction and communication with her peer group. She doesn’t respond to her name but looks at my direction when I call . I am really interested in your free online course.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this. My beautiful goddaughter is 2 years old and doesn’t not speak, respond to name, simple instruction or greetings. She does not use creative play as of yet, not due to a lack of trying I can assure you. Limited eye contact with family , Non with strangers. It looks as though autism might be the reason. I am going to try these techniques regularly. Her name is Marlie-Rae. 💜

  7. I’m a behavioral therapist working with a child with autism who’s vocabulary is limited. He’s really into videos on a tablet, what are some exercises I can implement to reinforce independent or indirect verbal instructed responses and also improve his vocabulary? Thanks love your blogs

  8. My child is 19mon old he didn’t respond for his name but he imitating us…is he suffers with autism

  9. Am a father of autism child, in my case my psychiatrist said that you have to call ur childs with name all time. Whats ur opinion mam

  10. Autism is it not a reaction of stressful overpopulation? Everywhere there are people. People are a plague. The child with or without autism quite probably did not want to be conceived. It does not want to experience competition and death. The parents still decided to create it as cheap caretakers. Cruel in a world slowly falling apart because of global warming!

  11. Thank you for posting this. My 3 year old son will turn and look when I say his name but will not answer to it. At daycare when they do attendance they call out his name.. and he doesn’t respond out loud. If we ask him his name, he won’t respond. If he sees a pic or video of himself and we ask who that is, he will say his name.
    I will try this technique and see if it works well. I also have the bad habit of calling him buddy or sweetie etc when talking to him positively. I bet you that is why he does not know his name or respond to it properly. It makes sense.

  12. Hello maam. My 22 month old doesnt reply to name when playing in the house….but looks towards the voice when called from 1st floor appartment. He started walking by 10 months…but has never said any words or and has poor eye contact and none wid strangers. But he doesnt cry in malls new surroundings, rather enjoys the running around. Just recently he repeats after us, one or two words, that too not so clearly. What can we do to make him talk. Another thing….he remembers the sequence of tye rhymes exactly….and says few words of the rhymes at the exact moment….pls help

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