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Helping Your Child with Word Finding Difficulties

We’ve all had that feeling where our word or thought is on “the tip of the tongue.”  However, when this is recurring and interrupts communication with your child, then it becomes a problem.  Word finding difficulties (also called “word retrieval difficulties”) are not a vocabulary disorder.  Your child understands the definition of the word(s) and has used them before.  Word finding difficulties are the result of difficulties accessing the vocabulary they already have in their repertoire.  Imagine that your child’s vocabulary is like a library.  All the books are there, but your child just may not know where or how to get them.  Word finding difficulties are common in children with ADHD, learning disorders, and language disorders.

Common Signs of Word Finding Difficulty:

  • Using many filler words in place of specific vocabulary: “Where’s my, ah, um, my, um, you know….my backpack?”
  • Whole word/phrase repetition: “Do you know where, where, where my…. backpack is?”
  • Delayed responses: “Where’s my……………..backpack?”
  • Nonspecific language: “It’s on the thing.”

Strategies and Activities to Help Your Child:

  • Give your child time: It is easy to interrupt and fill in your child’s language during moments of word finding.  However, it is important to avoid this and give your child time to think about what he/she wants to say, and independently utilize word finding strategies.
  • Discuss attributes:  ‘Attributes’ are the common features that describe vocabulary – category, function, location, parts, and physical descriptions such as color, shape, and size.  During moments of word finding, encourage your child to describe the common attributes. For example, if your child cannot recall the word “cow,” he/she can provide attributes such as “it’s a big animal that lives on a farm, says moo, and gives us milk.”  As a communication partner, you can prompt your child by saying, “Tell me what it looks like; tell me where you find it.”
  • Sound/Letter cues:  Sometimes providing the initial letter or sound is as helpful to the child as providing the entire word.  As a communication partner, if you know the word your child is thinking of, use this strategy.  When you are unsure, encourage your child to give you the first letter or sound.
  • Word finding games: Word finding games such as Scattergories, Last Word, and Outburst are great games that target word finding skills.  If your child is having word finding difficulties, encourage him/her to use strategies such as identifying the category or function, describing what it looks like, or drawing a picture.

Feel free to share any of your word finding strategies below.  If you think your child has word finding difficulties, contact North Shore Pediatric Therapy and set up a speech-language evaluation.

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