Whatchamacallit? The frustration of wording finding difficulties


“What’s it called? You know…? It’s a … ugh!”. Not being to find the right words is just so irritating! Is it any wonder that children with word finding difficulties just give up and stop talking?!

A ‘word finding’ or ‘word retrieval’ difficulty is when a child knows and understands a particular word, but has trouble retrieving it and using it in their speech. They usually know the meaning of the word and have said the word before. At times, they may experience the ‘tip of the tongue’ phenomena which affects all of us (e.g. not quite remembering the name of the object/item when they need to). This is common to children with language disorders.

You can tell the child might have a word retrieval issue if they:

  • Have a poor oral vocabulary.
  • Use too many words when only one or two would do.
  • Use non-specific words such as ‘thing’, ‘there’, ‘that’ and ‘you know’.
  • May explain the word that they cannot find (e.g. “You know, the thing that I can write with”).
  • Their speech may be hesitant and contain fillers such as “um”, “ah” and pauses.
  • Use a related word instead of the word that they want to say (e.g. ‘door’ for “window”).
  • Need extra time or take a long time to respond to questions.

Never fear, there are lots of playful games and activities that can help including:

  • Categorising games
    • Cut out pictures from magazines or catalogues of different objects. Encourage your child to put all of the pictures that are related together/in the same pile (e.g. ‘horse’, ‘dog’, ‘cat’, ‘monkey’ together as they are all animals).
      • Focus on simple category ideas such as food, animals, clothing, toys, and tools.
      • Build up to more specific categories including: food (fruit, vegetables, hot/cold food), clothing (winter/summer clothes), animals (zoo animals, pets, sea animals).
  • Word-classification games
    • Try to think of as many items in a group/category in one minute (e.g. ‘How many toys can you think of? How many different kinds of animals are there?’). Time your child while they do it and see if they can beat their ‘score’ on their second attempt.
  • Name that category
    • Provide clues to your child and they have to name the ‘category’ (e.g. what’s the same about all of the items). For example, ‘Rectangle, square, circle and diamond are all …’ (shapes).
  • Which one doesn’t belong
    • Use pictures or verbally name 3-4 items. Ask your child to tell you which one doesn’t belong or is the odd one out and why. For example, ‘Red, blue, sock, green’- “The sock doesn’t belong because it is not a colour”.
  • Identifying related items: Which ones go together?
    • Use pictures or verbally name 3-4 items that are related (e.g. car – pillow – bed – sock). Ask your child to tell you to choose the two items that go together the best or are related and why (e.g. pillow-bed: “You use them when you go to sleep”).
  • Complete the sentence
    • Provide your child with a sentence and they have to ‘fill in the gap’
      • “A pen is something you write with. Scissors are something you ….”
    • Provide your child with related items and they have to ‘fill in the gap’
      • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, ….
      • 1 ,2, 3, 4, 5, …
    • Word games
      • Talk about how words have:
        • Similar meanings (synonyms). For example ‘big’, ‘large’, ‘huge’, ‘humungous’
        • Opposite meanings (antonyms). For example ‘big’/’little’, ‘empty’/’full’
        • Have more than one meaning and are generally spelled the same (homonyms). For example, the word ‘bat’ could mean the animal that sleeps at night, or an item you use for sport that is made of wood which use you to hit a ball.
  • What’s different?
    • Encourage your child to think of differences between items as well as how they are similar (e.g. cat – dog: ‘They are both animals/pets. They are different because a dog barks and a cat says meow’).

Word finding difficulties can have a huge impact on a child language, social interaction, and even literacy so get started today with the fun and useful game.

For more information on how you can help your child, book an appointment with our friendly Speech Therapists and Occupational Therapists on 1800 KIDSENSE.

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