Dysnomia: What It Is and How to Help

What is Dysnomia?

Dysnomia is a term often used in the medical, psychological, and speech/language fields to refer to a difficulty in recalling or retrieving words from memory, particularly during speech or writing. It’s a type of language disorder that affects a person’s ability to access and retrieve the appropriate words they want to use. This can result in pauses, word-finding difficulties, and a sense of frustration during conversations or when trying to express oneself.

When someone has Dysnomia, it can make it difficult to name things like colors, objects, numbers, and letters. Additionally, it can also make it hard to label visual information. For example, a person with Dysnomia can struggle when they don’t know a person’s name (even though they recognize the person’s face). Because its hard to name things, Dysnomia often interferes with memory and slows processing speed. Finally, it can co-occur with other language difficulties, especially difficulties accessing, organizing, and outputting verbal information.

Dysnomia is commonly associated with conditions such as:

  1. Aphasia: This is a language disorder that can result from brain injuries, strokes, or neurological conditions. People with aphasia may have difficulty speaking, understanding language, and finding words.
  2. Developmental Language Disorders: Some individuals, especially children, may experience dysnomia as a part of a developmental language disorder. These disorders affect language acquisition and use in children who do not have any known neurological conditions.
  3. Learning Disabilities: Certain learning disabilities, such as specific language impairment (SLI) or dyslexia, can also involve difficulties with word retrieval and language processing.
  4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity: People with ADHD often have difficulties with word-finding and verbal fluency due to distraction and organizational concerns.
  5. Neurodegenerative Diseases: Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can lead to word-finding difficulties as cognitive function declines.

It’s important to note that occasional word-finding difficulties are normal and can happen to anyone. Dysnomia becomes more concerning when it significantly impacts a person’s ability to communicate effectively or if it is persistent and recurring. It occurs in up to 20% of individuals. It runs in families and tends to be more common in males than females.

Dysnomia is often regarded as a symptom of difficulties with executive functioning, learning concerns, language processing concerns, or concerns with inattention.  It is worse under stress.  The DSM-V and the ICD-10 do not recognize it as a “stand-alone” diagnosis.  Typically, it is a sign that some other concerns or diagnoses are occurring. 

What Are the Signs of Dysnomia?

  • Difficulty completing tasks quickly
  • Difficulties with recall
  • Inconsistent recall of basic information such as math facts or letter names, and problems on timed tests.
  • Trouble naming things
  • Using “fillers” such as “that thingy,” “umm,” “you know,” or “um” often.

What Causes Dysnomia?

Dysnomia is associated with delayed maturation of the prefrontal cortex, specifically those areas associated with word finding. As such, it often occurs with problems regulating attention and behavior, or those seen in ADHD.  Few children outgrown these issues on their own without intervention.

Treatments for Dysnomia

Because Dysnomia involves language, many people find that speech/language therapy can be a helpful part of working through these difficulties.  The therapist can teach you and your child ways to practice finding words, and helping speech production become more fluent.

If ADHD or Anxiety is also involved, it may be helpful to consult with a Child Psychologist or Child Therapist who also works with these issues. Additionally, by learning to relax or improve focus, people’s ability to find words also improves noticeably.  However, do not give up.  If your child is not improving, or you do not know what to do to help, keep learning, keep talking, and keep looking.  We are there to help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent and significant difficulties with word retrieval or language processing, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a medical professional, such as a speech-language pathologist, psychologist, or neurologist who has experience working with Dysnomia. These professionals can recommend appropriate interventions or treatments based on the underlying cause of the dysnomia.

If you are a parent of a child with Dysnomia, tell your child’s teacher and school. Provide them documentation.

Naming ability is a precursor to reading. Children with word-finding concerns often go on to develop reading disabilities or Dyslexia. Therefore, close monitoring of reading and other academic areas is essential. If reading problems do occur, it is essential for children to receive specific reading instruction in a phonics-based, oral out-loud, multi-sensory approach to reading, such as the Orton Gillingham, Barton, or Lindamood Bell methods. Additional information and strategies are available at http://www.wordfinding.com. Students with Dysnomia will often benefit from accommodations in the classroom, such as:

  • resource notebooks or cue cards to be used during exams
  • open book or take home exams
  • multiple choice and true-false frames in exams
  • multiple choice during oral questioning in the classroom
  • avoid putting the student on the spot
  • teach mnemonics and other learning strategies
  • teachers could cue the child with
    • letters – “It begins with “t”, etc.
    • categories – “It’s a type of furniture,” or “It’s a man who was tall.”
    • Clues, etc.
    • organize things by colors and locations


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