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  • Writer's picturekatieSLT

It’s on the tip of my tongue....

Word Finding Difficulties is something that we all experience occasionally - You know that “tip of the tongue” feeling that you get sometimes when you can’t quite remember someone’s name or a word you’re trying to think of – that’s a word-finding difficulty.  For most of us, this might happen occasionally for familiar words and names, or more often with more complex words that we don’t use as often.  It happens to us all a little more as we get older and particularly if we’re tired or distracted.

It is something that many of the children I work with have. Word finding can affect them all the time when they’re trying to say something.  They know what they want to say, but just can’t bring the right words to the forefront of their mind.  For some children, this might make them talk and talk around a topic, but don’t really get to the point because they can’t think of the words.  For others, they might speak very slowly, or start sentences and just give up.  The most common that I see is, they might use filler words and “non-specific language” a lot.  For example, a child says things like “I saw that thing next to it.”  They have the sentence structure right, but not the specific vocabulary.  In any of these cases, it can be difficult for the child to get their message across.

This may be an area of difficulty for some children long term into adulthood. So, what can we do to help?

Well, importantly we need to show them that EVERYONE experiences this sometimes. If your child struggles with word-finding, comment on it when you yourself can’t think of a word straightaway.  This will hopefully help them to see that everyone finds it hard from time to time and help their self-esteem.

I often think of our brains as like filing cabinets in an office. We learn words and file them away for easy retrieval. Thinking about this there are things we can do to support word finding difficulties:-

First, we can help them to ‘overlearn’ words. We need to make sure the vocabulary knowledge is secure – we are more likely to remember words which are familiar to us. So, if a child is having difficulty recalling words, it’s good to do extra repetition of new words to really embed them into the brain.

Secondly, we ‘file’ words that are similar together and cross reference them. For example, what they look like, what category they belong to, what sound they begin with. We can therefore try to cue into words with information we can remember.  For example, if someone has have forgotten someone’s name, they might remember that it begins with “J” or that it’s a short name or an unusual name.  If I have forgotten a word, I might describe it to help myself remember or so that the other person can understand. 

For example, I might say “the cold thing in the kitchen that you put milk in…the fridge!”.  So, we can teach children to use these same skills to help themselves and their listeners when they get stuck. 

Therefore, with children with word-finding difficulties I do lots of description activities and work on phonological awareness (awareness of sounds in words, syllables etc). A great game is ‘Headbandz’.

Here are some ideas of description activities that can help:-

  • Find a set of pictures – the ones from Headbandz or some pictures on the internet.  Take half each and take turns to describe a picture for the other person to guess what it is.  Talk about what makes a good clue (eg “it’s white” isn’t a helpful clue for a bread, but “you put butter on it” is).

  • Talk about similarities and differences between different things.  And put the Headbandz or other cards into categories . Then discuss them as you ‘categorise’ then. EG you have a picture of a sock and a hat are both clothes but a sock goes on your foot and a hat goes on your head.

  • put cards in categories or name items – eg roll a dice and try to think of that many things in a particular group- clothes, farm animals, food, etc

  • You can also try this the other way round – name 3 or 4 things in a group and see if the child can identify the group (eg apples, grapes and bananas are all ….).

Play and games are always a great way to support your child’s learning and retrieval of vocabulary. If you have concerns please contact your local Speech and Language Therapist for help or contact us here at Shine.

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