Teaching Children to Respond to Name Calling

Failing to respond to name calling is one of the common problems in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

As you can imagine, this problem can impact the children in many ways. For example: 

  • Reduces the chances of potential social opportunities: Since the child is being unresponsive to his peers, they will not find him/ her being reinforcing to interact with, thus they may less likely to approach or engage with the child in the future. 
  • Safety issues: Imagine your child is lost in the community or is further away from the parents, it may be difficult for the parents to provide immediate help due to the child’s lack of response. 
  • Independence: It can be challenging when you have to ask your child to carry out tasks in natural settings when there is distance between you and him/her.


The objectives of this skill are to teach the child to attend and respond to other’s social initiation, increasing their environmental and social awareness, as well as peers’ acceptance.

The nature of this skill is to establish the child’s “first response” when his/ her name is being called. In order to achieve that, we need to carefully select the type of prompts in our teaching. 

We suggest using Within-stimulus prompts as opposed to other external prompts. Initially, you may call the child’s name in a more exaggerate manner, e.g. louder, being in front of the child, at the student’s eye level, wait for him to look prior to calling his name etc. When your child responds to your name calling, immediately provide a reinforcement; alternatively, if he/ she does not respond, do not provide negative feedback, and wait for a short while to have the next attempt, and provide a prompt as necessary. In earlier phases, we also suggest evaluating the value of the reinforcers regularly (Read more at 15 Rules of Reinforcement Part 1 and Part 2 to ensure the child is motivated to respond to name calling.

Since we are targeting the child’s “first response”, meaning if you have to repeatedly call the child’s name or he/ she can only respond after you provide a negative feedback, this would indicate that the child has not fluidly picked up the skill. You should continue with systematic teaching and provide sufficient practice opportunity. Your goal is to have the child respond to name calling in a consistent and responsive manner across settings and people, even when it is unpredictable.

A parent asked if he/ she should have the child respond to his real name/ nickname? 

In Hong Kong, nickname is not very common. This has to do with the consideration of the child’s age, learning setting, and may even be what the nickname is. For example, if your child is 7, calling him by his nickname can be quite stigmatizing and age inappropriate in the community; or if the child is at school age, teaching him to respond to his nickname can also be inappropriate.

Hope this article is helpful in providing you some tips in teaching your child to respond to name calling.

Teaching Videos:

Information provided by:

Christy Lai
Autism Partnership Behavioral Consultant

Ms. Christy Lai is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis from St. Cloud State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Ms. Lai joined Autism Partnership (AP) in 2011 and she has extensive experience in working with children with ASD. Ms. Christy Lai currently take lead of the case supervision in the new established AP Beijing center. At the same time, she oversees the Little Learners program in Hong Kong and Shanghai and consults families in Asia. She directs overseas training to staff in the Train the Trainer program and provides parent education to families with children with ASD. She also conducts Jumpstart and PIIP programs locally and internationally. In additions, she is keen to take part in overseas ASD conferences and take lead of the design and production of AP teaching materials. Moreover, she helps with producing ABA training videos and articles in the APSPARKS website for public education.

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