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Trouble Finding or Saying the Right Word? It Could Be Dyslexia

Word Finding and Word Retrieval Problems in Dyslexia
At a Glance
  • Everyone has trouble coming up with the right word now and then, feeling as if it’s “on the tip of the tongue.”
  • Frequent issues with word retrieval can be a sign of dyslexia.
  • Anxiety can sometimes make it harder for people to say the right word.

Imagine you’re watching television and suddenly you recognize the face of your friend’s favorite actor. You call her up immediately. “Hey, Sally, turn on your TV. It’s... it’s... you know the guy... that actor you love... from the thing....”

Suddenly you’re at a loss for words, even though you know who the actor is. You’re experiencing a momentary problem with what experts call word retrieval or word finding.

Everyone experiences this now and then. But with dyslexia, it can happen often and with all types of words. A child with dyslexia can have trouble remembering, recalling and getting out different sound combinations. The word she wants to say may be “on the tip of her tongue,” but she can’t access the exact sound combination to produce the word.

Your child may say a wrong word that sounds similar to the right one (such as “distinct” instead of “extinct”) or she may talk around it. This same kind of mental hiccup can also occur during writing.

Anxiety sometimes makes matters worse for kids with dyslexia. Your child’s word-retrieval issues can increase under pressure. Students with dyslexia may find word retrieval less challenging when they have more time to respond and aren’t put on the spot.

If your child frequently struggles to find the right word, you can explain what word retrieval is and why she has trouble with it. Awareness of a problem may help your child stay calm, making the words easier to access.

Your child’s teacher, reading specialist or speech therapist should also be able to share strategies to minimize these experiences. If your child has dyslexia and has an individualized education program (IEP) at school, she may be entitled to extra time on tests and to complete tasks.

It’s important to note that persistent problems with word finding are not unique to dyslexia. Word-retrieval issues can also occur in people who’ve had a stroke or brain injury. Children with ADHD, kids who stutter and those with other specific language issues can also struggle with word retrieval and word finding.

As you look for the best ways to help your child at school and at home, consider pursuing classroom accommodations as well as discussing your child’s feelings with her as she’s experiencing them.

Key Takeaways
  • Dyslexia isn’t the only issue associated with word-retrieval problems.
  • Helping your child learn how to stay calm can make the words easier to access.
  • Extra time to complete tests and other tasks can help with word retrieval.

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