Did you know that by 12 months, most babies are able to respond to his/her name by looking at you? It is one of the pre-linguistic skills required for overall development, specifically language development. If your child is not yet responding to his/her name, you’re not alone. This is a common concern, and this blog will hopefully provide some helpful tips to optimize this skill.

So, why aren’t they responding?

A lack of response to one’s name may be due to difficulties with social interactions, as is commonly observed in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It may also be due to a receptive language delay, where he/she has not yet understood the need to respond to his/her name. A small percentage of time, children also do not respond to their name because they don’t like what happens to them when their name is called (e.g., having to do a non-preferred task, like going to sleep!). This is a small percentage, however, and most times this delay is due to difficulties with social skills and/or a receptive language delay. (Side note: It is also essential to make sure your child is hearing appropriately and passes a hearing screening/audiological evaluation, as a lack of response may be due to hearing deficits).

Luckily, there are some tips that may help your little one. These are tips inspired by Laura Mize, CCC-SLP and owner of “Teach Me to Talk”.

Tip #1
Call his/her name differently than you usually do

-Try calling their name in a different melodic tone, such as a sing-song voice. This technique is actually called “parent-ease”
-Change the volume of how you usually call him/her. For example, you can excitedly whisper the name
-Use a sound (e.g., a clap, tap your foot, whistling) to pair it with the child’s name

Tip #2
Use a reward system. These can be categorized into varying degrees of reward (natural, physical, and tangible)

*Natural Reward
-Call their name for something they like (getting in the bath, etc.) and that would naturally occur in the child’s routine. Make sure to emphasize his/her name while calling them (use a sing-song voice, change the volume, repeat, etc.)

*Physical Reward
-Call their name for some sort of physical reward that he/she enjoys (hugs, rocking, tickles, swinging, bouncing, etc.)
-It is important to be intentional & consistent, so that this connection between “name” and “reward” link up. Use a therapeutic approach when practicing this, as practice is key

*Tangible Reward
-For some children, it can be really beneficial to hold/touch something as their reward
-Can keep it simple. For example, one goldfish per response to their name
-It is important to only give this reward for responding to name during this period of time

When using these tips, remember that practice is key – it can take repeated practice for this connection to occur. Once you do it many times and your child runs to you consistently for those rewards, it is recommended to start fading this out. That way, your child can still make that key link with his/her name, but they don’t become too dependent to always receive that reward.

Speech-language pathologists prioritize this skill, as it is a key component in early language building. Thus, if your child is displaying difficulties, it is recommended to reach out to a speech-language pathologist, who will be able to provide support and create an individualized, purposeful plan for your little one to master this skill. You’re not alone!

Additionally, if you’re in Florida, please reach out to Exceptional Speech Therapy, as our trained professionals would be more than happy to help.

-Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer

Mize, L. (2019, October 9). 3 ways to teach children to respond to their own names. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3IKT0FQNqM