Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 544-545


  • Denise E. MaricleAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology and Philosophy, Texas Woman’s University


Anomia; Word finding; Word retrieval


Dysnomia is a difficulty with, or inability to, retrieve the correct word from memory when need.


Dysnomia impairs an individual’s ability to recall words, names or objects. Normal individuals often have some difficulty recalling words, which is often referred to as the “tip of the tongue phenomenon”, but dysnomia is more severe and interferes with daily life. A person with dysnomia exhibits normal speech but has severe difficulty in recalling words, names, or objects needed for oral or written communication [9]. Individuals with dysnomia exhibit word finding difficulties characterized by word finding pauses, circumlocution, faulty word selection or the replacement of the word with a synonym in an attempt to express their thoughts without using the word they are having difficulty retrieving, as well as difficulty naming objects and recognizing objects by name [6]. The terms anomia and dysnomia are often used interchangeably [8]. The difference between dysnomia and anomia (defined as the complete inability to name familiar objects) is the degree of dysfunction, such that individuals with dysnomia exhibit a lesser degree of dysfunction than do individuals with anomia. Dysnomia can be a symptom of another disorder, or a long term condition [1]. Dysnomia is often a symptom of conditions and illnesses such as alcohol intoxication, electrolyte imbalance or low blood sugar, concussion, hyperthermia, hypothermia, and hypoxemia, or as a side effect of certain drugs. Dysnomia can be a long term condition as a result of a learning disability, dementia, a brain injury (TBI, CVA), or aging.

Relevance to Childhood Development

In children, the term dysnomia appears most commonly in reference to learning disability, but word finding problems may be seen in students with reading problems, language difficulties, and attention problems, as well as with children with known brain pathology [1]. Lerner [7] reported that students with learning disabilities retrieve words significantly slower than peers and that their word finding problems are life-long sources of difficulty in reading and learning. Word finding difficulties have also been identified in children with specific language difficulties. These children have word finding difficulties in single word retrieval, connected discourse, or both. Word finding difficulties are also common sequelae in acquired or congenital brain injury and are often associated with other memory deficits. Word finding deficits associated with brain injury are most commonly seen with left hemisphere cerebral damage.

Formal assessment of a child’s word finding difficulties is needed to develop an individualized intervention plan. Several instruments have been developed specifically to assess word finding. The Test of Word Finding-Second Edition (TWF-2) [3] is designed for children ages 4–12 and is fairly sound psychometrically. The Test of Adolescent and Adult Word Finding (TAWF) [4] is designed for individuals aged 12–80 and although psychometrically sound its normative population is relatively old (obtained in the 1980s). The Boston Naming Test, a part of the Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination-Third Edition [5] assesses word finding difficulties in adults. Research has shown that rapid automatized naming tasks that measure the ability to rapidly name common objects, letters, digits, and colors, or retrieve words provides an adequate measure of dysnomia in children [2]. Variations of tasks of rapid naming can be found on several standardized measures of intelligence and achievement used with children and adolescents. For example Naming Facility (RAN) on the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement-Second Edition (KTEA II) or Retrieval Fluency and Rapid Picture Naming on the Woodcock Johnson III Normative Update: Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ III COG NU). Intervention in word finding difficulties needs to be comprehensive with respect to its focus and application. A comprehensive intervention program for a child should focus on three areas: retrieval strategy instruction, self advocacy instruction, and word finding accommodations [2].

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