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CommunicatingResponse to Name

Is Your Child Not Responding to Their Name?

Girl on bicycle looking back.
Anna Kroncke
Anna Kroncke
Ph.D., NCSP
Last modified 29 Nov 2022
Published 22 Mar 2022

What is Response to Name in Childhood?

Response to name in childhood is the ability to look toward, motion toward, or verbally respond to someone when they call your name.

Even in infancy, we expect babies to orient to caregivers when their names are called. A baby should be responding to their name by six or seven months of age. Some babies start doing this at three or four months of age. It is concerning if your baby is not showing this skill by seven months. 

“If your child’s hearing is okay, you can expect that they will respond when their name is called. This response may look like smiling, nodding, making eye contact, or saying ‘what?’ when someone says their name. “

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Symptoms of Response to Name Issues

  • Hard to get child’s attention: Your child may be slow to respond when you are trying to show them something or motion toward an interesting object in the environment
  • Questions about your child’s hearing: Your child may appear hard of hearing because of how slow they are to respond when their name is called
  • In their own world: Your child may seem perfectly happy doing their own thing and may largely ignore the people in the room
  • Focused on objects: Your child may spend more time engaging with objects and toys than with people
  • Excessive shyness: Your child may get upset when people are trying to get their attention
  • Crying when their name is called: Your child may find it aversive when people are trying to engage them in conversations

“A child struggling with these issues may initially get along with a group but then quickly be excluded. Although your child is working hard to be friendly, their sincere efforts may be thwarted by the tendency to engage in a way that is aversive to peers.” 

Causes of Response to Name Issues

  • Autism spectrum disorder: Children with autism often have issues responding to their name from an early age. This tendency to not engage with others is an early warning sign of autism. Want to know if your child’s challenges are a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder? Cadey courses are taught by licensed psychologists and walk you through the symptoms of autism and how they may present in your child. Sign up today
  • Social anxiety: Many children will be a little shy or nervous around peers, especially at a young age. However, most kids should be responding to their names. If you see this pattern, it is important to provide support
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Some children with ADHD may occasionally ignore people trying to call their name
  • Trauma: Sometimes, trauma may temporarily cause your child to avoid social interaction. If your child can socialize but is withdrawn after a traumatic event, therapy is likely to help your child develop skills
  • A recent move or significant change of environment: Most children will have some adjustment issues if they move to a new school, home, or community, especially if the move is from another country or a different cultural context. Be patient and supportive of your child

What to Do about Response to Name Issues

  • DO: Expect your child to look at you when making requests. If your child is standing in the kitchen pointing to the cookies on the shelf, wait for the child to get your attention with eye contact, gestures, or verbal requests
  • DON’T: Let your child off the hook. If your child avoids social interaction with you by not responding to their name, engage directly. Go over to your child, get on their level, make eye contact, and repeat their name. Make sure your child knows you are using your words to get their attention 
  • DON’T: Ever call your child’s name and then do something negative to them. If you call your child into the house to give a punishment or reprimand, they will avoid responding to you in the future
  • DO: Reinforce when your child engages with you socially. If the child is trying to get your attention, look in their eyes, smile, and provide a positive model of social connection
  • DON’T: Ignore social skills challenges with your child. Yes, some kids will grow out of these issues, but it will be very important for your child to learn how to be comfortable socially and to form meaningful connections with others

When to Seek Help for Response to Name Issues

The first thing to think about if your child is acting in an unusual way around peers is, “Did something recently change?” That is, sometimes your child may be uncomfortable due to situational factors. 

For example, if you just moved to a new school or a new town, most children will take a while to feel comfortable around peers. This behavior is normal and most likely will improve over time with support and patience from loved ones.

Generally, though, the lack of response to one’s name is a warning sign. Be aware that this is a basic social skill that will be expected and required for most social interactions.

If your child is struggling socially, get curious. Your child’s teacher or daycare provider may be a good resource. This important social skill is worth investigating. 

Further Resources on Response to Name

  • School counselor: if possible, ask your child’s school counselor to observe your child around peers and give you feedback
  • Child find: if your child is not making eye contact or responding to their name, it will be helpful to contact your local child find provider, typically with your school district or Community Center Board (CCB). Be persistent, and do not stop asking until you have some answers
  • Psychologist: if your child is struggling socially or refusing to interact with peers, it may be helpful to get a comprehensive psychological evaluation to see if a diagnosis underlies their challenges
  • Social skills groups: if you have a social group in your community, this is a good opportunity. Most suburban communities have social skills groups that may be helpful for your child. In communities without such access, there may be online resources available
  • Rec center classes: if you are in an area with a recreation center, check out their upcoming classes for kids. They may have an art class, gymnastics class, or swimming school your child could try. These activities tend to be a little easier socially because there is much less emphasis on social communication and most of the focus on the sport or activity at hand

Book Resources for Response to Name

Lawrence Heller. Healing developmental trauma: How early trauma affects self-regulation, self-image, and the capacity for relationships. 

Kroncke, Willard, & Huckabee (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. Springer, San Francisco

Baker, Jed. (Retrieved 2017). Social skills books and resources for ASD.

Zelinger, Laurie & Zelinger, Jordan (2014). Please explain anxiety to me

Other books about early social skills in childhood

Berns, Roberta M. (2010). Child, family, school, community: Socialization and support.  

Mendler, Allen (2013). Teaching your students how to have a conversation.

Ozonoff, Sally & Dawson, Geraldine & McPartland, James C. (2014). A parent’s guide to high functioning autism spectrum disorder: How to meet the challenges and help your child thrive.

UCLA PEERS Clinic https://www.semel.ucla.edu/peers

Giler, Janet Z. (2000). Socially ADDept: A manual for parents of children with ADHD and/or learning disabilities.

Giler, Janet Z. (2011). Socially ADDept: Teaching social skills to children with ADHD, LD, and Asperger’s.

Baker, Jed. (2006). Social skills picture book for high school and beyond. 

Baker, Jed. (Retrieved 2017). Social skills books and resources for ASD.

Gray, Carol & Attwood, Tony (2010). The New Social Story Book, Revised and Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Social Stories that Teach Everyday Social Skills to Children with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and their Peers.

McConnell, Nancy & LoGuidice (1998). That’s Life! Social language.

Fein, Deborah (2011). “The Neuropsychology of Autism”

Brown, Laurie Krasny & Brown, Marc (2001). How to be a friend: A guide to making friends and keeping them (Dino life guides for families). 

Cook, Julia (2012). Making Friends is an art!: A children’s book on making friends (Happy to be, you and me). 

Cooper, Scott (2005). Speak up and get along!: Learn the mighty might, thought chop, and more tools to make friends, stop teasing, and feel good about yourself.

Meiners, Cheri. (2003). Understand and care.

Helsley, Donalisa (2012). The worry glasses: Overcoming anxiety. 

Cook, Julia (2012). Wilma jean and the worry machine. 

Cook, Julia (2012) Wilma jean and the worry machine: Activity and idea book. 

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