Word Finding Strategies for Dyslexics with Word Retrieval Deficits

Posted by Erica Warren on

We all suffer, from time to time, with that feeling that a name or phrase we are trying to recall is on the tip of our tongue, but somehow we just can't access the needed information in the moment. For many students, this happens during stressful moments such as test-taking, but for others, such as most students with dyslexia, this is a pervasive problem that requires intervention.

work finding strategies for student

What Exactly is a Wording Finding Problem?

Word finding problems, also known as word retrieval difficulties, dysnomia, anomia or semantic dyslexia, result in difficulties recalling names of objects, places, and people, with no impairment of comprehension or the capacity to repeat the words. This difficulty can stem from the cognitive processes of encoding, retrieving, or a combination of encoding and retrieving.

What Are the Symptoms of Word Finding Problems?

A student with word finding difficulties may display the following challenges:
  • Word Substitutions - Using another word that has a similar meaning such as utensil for fork.
  • Circumlocutions - Providing descriptions of the word such as, "it's the apple that is green and sour" for granny smith apple.
  • Fillers - Filling time with utterances such as "um", "I know it...", or "It's coming to me."
  • Vague Wording - Using phrases such as "that thing on the desk", "the thingamabob in her hair, or "the doodad on his plate."
  • Gestures - Acting out the targeted word (e.g. "You know, when you do this...").

Do Other Disabilities Struggle with Word Finding Problems?

Dyslexia is not the only learning diagnosis that struggles with word finding difficulties. In fact, there are numerous learning disabilities that can share this challenge:
  • Specific Learning Disabilities
  • Specific Language Disabilities (expressive, receptive or both)
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Executive Functioning Disorder

Can Word Finding Problems be Remediated?

These cognitive deficits are not known to be curable, however, individuals can learn compensatory strategies that can enable them to largely navigate around these hurdles. Here are a number of both encoding a retrieval strategies that can improve word finding:
  1. Go Through the Alphabet - Go through the alphabet and say the sounds of each letter and think about whether the word you are trying to recall may start with that sound.
  2. Visualize a Letter Association - To remember names, associate the first letter with the object, person, or place. For example, when I met a woman named Vera, I noticed that she was wearing a v-necked shirt. Whenever I saw her, I remembered her wearing that shirt and it triggered her name.
  3. Use Word Associations - This strategy associates an idea or quality with the object. The way I remember the name of the flower impatiens is to remember how impatient I get when trying to think of the name.
  4. Associate a Rhyming Word - This strategy uses a rhyming word with the object. To remember the flower's name geranium, I think of cranium - geranium. 
  5. Visual Associations - This strategy associates a visual to aid recall. I often associate a visual when using rhyming words as combining strategies can help to assure future recall. In the example above, cranium - geranium, one may notice and then visualize that a full geranium blossom resembles the shape of a cranium.
  6. Use Visual Hooking Strategies - This strategy involves visual hints that lie within the name or word that one wishes to quickly recall. A visual hooking strategy for the name Richard might be the recognition that the word rich is in Richard. One could then visualize Richard as being very rich.
  7. Use Auditory Hooking Strategies - This strategy incorporates auditory hints that lie within the name or word that one wishes to quickly recall. An auditory hooking strategy for the vocabulary word benevolent might be that the word sounds like be not violent. Then one can think, be not violent - be kind, and benevolent means kind in spirit.
  8. Utilize Circumlocution - This strategy involves describing the word so that others can provide the name for you.
  9. Create a List or Table - This strategy involves taking pictures of the objects, people or places and creating a document or memo that labels each image. Make this document accessible from technology such as computers and smartphones.
  10. Name Associations - This strategy involves associating names of new acquaintances with other people that have the same name.
  11. Visualize the Word - This strategy uses your mind's eye to see the word written on paper.
  12. Use Technology - This strategy uses technology to find the word you can not recall. For example, you can go onto Google and describe the word. This will often guide you to the answer.

Are There Any Games or Activities that Strengthen Word Finding?

There are a number of games that I have found to help strengthen word finding. Here are a few of my favorites:
Just remember to truly remediate your word finding difficulties and reach your full potential, you must make a conscious effort to use the strategies that work best for you.
Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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