I recently conducted a full day assessment on a child I will call Dennis, a 4-year-old with a diagnosis of autism. One the concerns of Dennis' parents was their inability to get his attention by calling his name. As I conducted a VB-MAPP assessment, this was a deficiency in the Listener Responding area and was also an IEP goal not mastered for over a year.
Not responding to name when called can be one of the first hallmark signs of autism. This is considered a “red flag” on the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) and a diagnostic indicator on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Since many children and adults with autism have difficulty in this area, I thought I would address it in this week’s blog.
I created and have used the following procedure to address this issue with dozens of children with autism and found it to be very successful. The key is to pair the child’s name with improving conditions (reinforcement) since any behavior that is reinforced will 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, do not link the child’s name to demands (e.g.: “Dennis, go get your shoes”, “Dennis come here”, etc.) . Limiting the use of the child’s name will actually help him to learn to respond when his name is called, because he won’t tune it out as part of a long list of demands.
Next gather several of Dennis’ strongest consumable or controllable reinforcers (chips and bubbles, for instance) and go behind him when he’s engaged in another activity. Call his name while standing behind him and then immediately touch his shoulder and hand him a chip or blow bubbles. Gradually fade your prompts by standing a foot or two further away and by delaying the touching of his shoulder by a second or two. By using this procedure, Dennis will learn that when he hears his name, good things happen.
For the best results, I recommend using this procedure in both home and school environments and also recommend taking data every trial (10 or 20 trials per day) so that your distance and the reinforcement can be systematically faded out as the child becomes successful with responding to his name.
For more information, read my book and/or past blogs available at: http://www.verbalbehaviorapproach.com/.