Signs of a Word Retrieval Problem

"Well, we went there and then we did stuff…. you know…I mean...."

Have you ever listened to your child answer a question or tell a story that has little or no actual content? Your child just can’t come up with the specific words she needs or she talks in circles (i.e. she points to her headphones and says "music," but the word she really means is "download").

Word-retrieval difficulties are more common in people who have auditory processing and reading difficulties, as well as general expressive language problems. After a stroke, individuals may also have word-retrieval difficulties.

Here are some of the signs:

The individual substitutes a similar word.

  • They have frequent delays in responding.
  • They might frequently say "Oh, I forgot," or "I just can’t think of the word."
  • They have difficulty learning and using new vocabulary.
  • They use words incorrectly.
  • They can be quite entertaining and invent new words which aren’t real words.

For kids, a big giveaway is that they do well with worksheets that require recognizing or matching vocabulary words to definitions on the sheet. However, if there is no key of words to use, they will get stuck when they have to fill in the blanks and define words on their own.

A speech pathologist can assess and treat word-finding problems. If you have concerns in this area, request an appointment for a language assessment. We are able to provide these assessments at The Brain Trainer.

You can also work at home with child. Try these techniques:

  • Target only a few key words at a time. Let your child hear you and others use these words over and over again. Set up situations where your child can practice using the selected words.
  • Ask your child to visualize the words and create a story with them, including a lot of description or action.
  • If your child gets stuck on a word, instead of saying the word for her, ask her directed questions that will help her get closer to the word. For example, if she means to say "water," ask, "Is it something you drink? Does it come from the faucet? Does it also come out of the hose?"
  • Sometimes a sentence starter is helpful such as "you drink a glass of ______________"
  • You can also give two choices and let the child pick the correct one: "Were you thinking of soda pop or water?"
  • Sometimes you might need to offer help with the first sound of a word (w_____)

Games that help with word-retrieval difficulties include: Scattergories™, Password™, Word on the Street™, Chain Game™, Letter Roll™ and Smart Mouth™. Many of these games are available at the Brain Trainer in the Good for Your Brain Store.

Subtle Language Problems Can Hurt Your Child in School

Your child is bright yet he struggles to participate in class and with written assignments. He may be a good reader and very good at grammar and following rules, yet he is disorganized expressing his thoughts. This is not about overall intelligence, but a subtle, higher-level language problem.

See if this sounds like your child:

  • He often starts talking about something without giving an introduction to the topic. He doesn’t realize the listener doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about, or thinks the subject is still their previous topic.
  • When you ask him what happened at school, his response is choppy, missing a sequential flow or details. The child might say, for instance, "It was so funny when they crashed." He leaves out that in science class, they studied how fast cars of different weights speed down a slope.
  • His stories seem random or tangential. Speech may be slow and hesitant with lots of fillers – um, like, hum, and you know.
  • He may rarely initiate conversation as conversation is exhausting for him.
  • He does well on multiple choice or other recognition worksheets and tests. However, he doesn’t do well writing his own answers to open-ended questions, such as essays.

How Does a Speech Pathologist Help?

Arrange for a speech and language assessment to learn in more detail about your child’s abilities. What are his strengths and where do the breakdowns occur? Speech therapists use both standardized tests and informal measures to evaluate these skills.

Often children with these subtle language and learning difficulties need to work on patterning and sequencing skills. These might involve working on spatial concepts such as right, left, above, in front of, in back of, below, next to, and between. They might also need to work on temporal concepts, such as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, last, beginning, middle, end, before, after, later and until.

They often benefit from working on descriptive words, varied sentence structure, and varied length of sentences, from short to long. The therapist may also work with your child on following or creating patterns.

What can you as a parent do to help?

  • Use everyday experiences to model sequenced stories about what you are doing.
  • Watch TV or movies with your child to practice summarization and prediction of events.
  • Ask directed questions to help your child respond. Avoid very open-ended questions.
  • Cartoon reading and creating can help build language skills and a sense of story structure.
  • With older children, help them break larger projects into smaller projects. Develop a visual time line as an aid.