Help! My child has a lisp. What can we do about it?

Help! My child has a lisp. What can we do about it?

What is a LISP?

There are different types of LISPS. Let me explain:

A lisp is the difficulty making a clear ‘S’ and ‘Z’. Other sounds can also be affected by the tongue protruding too far forward and touching the upper teeth or the upper lip even. ‘T’ and ‘D’ can be produced with ‘too much tongue at the front’ and this can also have an impact on ‘CH’ and often also ‘SH’.

  1. Interdental lisp

Protruding the tongue between the front teeth while attempting ‘S’ or ‘Z’ is referred to as interdental lisp; it can make the speech sound ‘muffled’ or ‘hissy’. Often, we associate a lisp with the person sounding a bit immature. The good news is that this type of lisp is the easiest to correct and, in my practice. I have a 100% success rate with this type of lisp.

  1. Lateral lisp

In a lateral lisp the person produces the ‘S’ and ‘Z’ sounds with the air escaping over the sides of the tongue. This renders the ‘S’ as sounding ‘slushy’ or ‘wet’. This type of lisp is a bit harder to correct than the interdental lisp. In my experience this can be fixed but it might need a bit longer, more intensive therapy than the interdental lisp.

  1. Palatal lisp

With a palatal lisp the ‘S’ sound is attempted with the tongue touching the palate, much further back than it should be. The ‘S’ sounds ‘windy’ and ‘hissy’. This is a quite rare lisp production but it is also not difficult to correct.

These types of speech difficulties come under the category of ‘speech delay of unknown origin’ and may persist into adolescence and adulthood as ‘residual errors‘.

Some thoughts on Treatment in general:

Lisps can be treated successfully by a Speech and Language Therapist. However, for the treatment to work well, a student needs to be able to cooperate and want to improve his or her speech. Lisp remediation entails a fair amount of repetitive work and very young children or unmotivated older children don’t make the best candidates for treatment for this reason. Often students present with other speech, language or social communication difficulties and here the lisp might not be the priority for treating. For example, it might be that due to a student’s Attention Deficit Disorder they are simply not able to focus on speech practice in their daily life.

When should treatment of lisp begin?

Waiting well past 4½ years is not advisable as the longer we wait and do nothing the stronger engrained the erroneous tongue/speech habit will become. The ‘right’ age for therapy for one child may be different from the ‘right’ age for another child even within the same family. So do make an appointment with a speech and language therapist to assess and see whether your child might be ready to start therapy.

Do lots of children lisp—is it normal?

Until the age of about 4–4.5 years old it can be a perfectly normal developmental phase for some children to have the interdental lisp. But when we see and hear a lateral or palatal lisp we ought to act and see a speech and language therapist for sure.

After the age of 4.5 or 5 years old most speech therapists would agree on at least having a look to see if treatment could be started. The longer we wait the harder it is to retrain the brain pathways to adopt new speech habits.

What happens during the first Speech and Language Consultation?

The first consultation takes about an hour and involves screening relevant areas of communicative function. We take a detailed history, examine the anatomy of the child’s mouth and tongue movements. We check for tongue tie, teeth formation, palate structure and function, as well as swallowing patterns.

Then we begin straight away to try and see if any of the alveolar sounds (T/D/L/N) can be produced correctly with the right tongue placement as that would be the starting point from where to shape a good, clear ‘S’ sound.

The first consultation usually ends with home practice being given, explained to parents and another appointment being made for follow up.

Therapy – what does a session look like?

Each therapy session consists of:

  1. Listening to sounds, discriminating sounds, identifying sounds, listening to rhyming sounds, sound awareness. We call this Auditory discrimination of single sounds: can the student hear the difference between two words that are the same apart from the first sound: ‘sing’ and ‘thing’ or ‘sigh’ and ‘thigh’?
  2. Sound production: using a variety of different prompts and cues we will teach how to physically make the new sound. Often, we work on making a NEW sound, instead of correcting the OLD one. We work on imitation of single sounds then gradually we try and make new sounds in short words, then longer words and then phrases and sentences.
  3. Games! We play games and try and have fun in between listening and producing our new sounds to help students stay motivated and even enjoy the therapy session and process.

How long does it take to ‘fix up’ a lisp?

It tends to take about one term with weekly sessions to help a student make good ‘S’ sounds in phrases and sentences. If the student can do the home practice every day in between the weekly sessions, then in most cases I am able to pronounce the lisp as ‘fixed’ after about one term.

After that the student needs to practise, practise, practise, at home and in daily life to keep reminding themselves of their new skills and their new sound production.

It is a matter of reminding and wanting to get it right. Occasionally a student returns to me for another term of simply practising their skills together with me as they are finding it hard for any number of reasons to practise at home. But generally, 8/10 students will be fine after some 12–13 sessions and their speech will be perceived as perfectly typical by family and friends.

If your child has a lisp or any other speech error, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.