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What's the word? Talking about word finding difficulties in children.

Friday, July 18, 2014



Word finding difficulties refers to having trouble retrieving a word that is already in your vocabulary. Ever have a word that is “on the tip of your tongue” but you just cannot think of it? That is an example of word finding difficulty. Many children and adults with language disorders demonstrate word finding difficulties with their everyday communication.

If your child knows and understands a variety of words, but often cannot come up with the name, they may be showing word finding difficulties. Without support, children can be at risk for social and academic difficulties. There are many strategies and activities that teachers and parents can do to reduce times of confusion or struggle. Here are just a few:

  • Play memory games to recall past information. Narrative stories about episodic (personal) events can keep the brain sharp and organized. Use these events to talk about who, what, where, when, and why.

  • Categories. Have your child start to put things into easy categories (food, clothes, animals, etc.) and work up to more difficult categories (things that fly, things you’d take on vacation, etc.). When words in the brain are categorized with similar things, children are more likely to find the target word by using these categories and associations .

  • Synonyms/antonyms are another good way of categorizing similar words. Children are never too young to build their vocabulary using this technique. For example, when playing with your son, your son might say, "my car is so fast" and you could say, "my car is speedy too." This not only helps them learn a new word, but understand that "fast" and "speedy" mean the same thing.

  • Labeling things around the house or while driving in a car is a good way to get a word to stick and be more easily recalled. The memory of what you saw can be accommodated by the vocabulary word.  Picture naming is another good way to combine visual and auditory cues for words.

  • When your child cannot come up with the right word, there are other strategies you can use in the moment to assist them finding the word on their own:

    • Fill in the blank (“You cook in a ____.”).

    • Function (what is it used for?)

    • Semantic cues (background clues, such as “it’s a farm animal.”)

    • Phonetic cues (giving the first sound in the word)

Worksheets, ideas and activities can be found online to improve word finding skills. Some children benefit from “visualizing” the word or sequencing events to find what they are looking for. Every child is different, and activities should be individualized to optimize each child’s ability. Parents are encouraged to keep “literacy-rich” environments at home and turn everything surrounding you into an opportunity to learn. 

Word finding difficulties can be frustrating for the child and for the adult/communicative partner. Helping your child remember what they are trying to say or find the word they want to share can be done using some of the tools above, which will decrease frustration and increase the natural flow of conversation.