This is a surprisingly common speech error and it can be corrected really well in my experience. I have helped lots of children of all ages learn how to control their tongue movements and produce clear, sharp /s/ sounds and good /sh/ sounds.
There are some factors which need to be considered before we can dive into therapy proper and these are they, in a nutshell:
- Student is not currently displaying negative oral habits such as thumb sucking or excessive sucking on clothing. This is because thumb sucking exerts pressure on the teeth and therefore can, over time, push teeth out of their natural order/position.
- Student does not have a restricted lingual frenulum or tongue tie which can cause at times restricted movements of the tongue (pending on how tight the frenulum is attaching the tongue to the base of the oral cavity); equally a labial frenulum or lip-tie can restrict lip movement and therefore physically restrict good speech sound production.
- Student does not have enlarged tonsils as they can sometimes push a tongue forward and also cause open mouth posture and open mouth breathing.
- Student’s motivation to change their speech pattern is high. (this is an important factor though with younger students I can get round this with a lot of fun games and good parental involvement!)
When I do an Oral Assessment of my student these are the first factors I want to look at and consider. Often I will refer to other agencies such as Orthodontists, dentists or ENT specialists to advise and help with some of these factors before we can get going. However, there are strategies that we can work on almost straight away.
Most of my Lisp Students present with an open mouth posture: that is where the student has their mouth always slightly open for breathing. Over time the tongue starts to fall forward and rests on the front teeth or the bottom lip instead of finding a comfortable resting place either at the alveolar ridge (the bumpy spot behind the upper front teeth) or, alternatively, resting at the bottom of the mouth behind the lower front teeth.
Another common problem is that the tongue is not moving independently from the jaw and so is reluctant to pull back or lift up inside the mouth as the tongue is guided in movement by the jaw.
Combine those two factors and your tongue is not pulling back, or lifting up or doing very much at all without the jaw moving as well. This makes for unclear speech sounds, especially all the sounds we make at the front with our tongue or with our lips: B/P/L//N/ and of course /S/ and /SH/ are particularly hard to make. We often also struggle with the /Y/ sound so /LELLOW/ instead of /yellow/.
But no fear, these problems can be treated over time for sure! We often start with lip, tongue, and jaw exercises that help to move the tongue independently from the Jaw, our student learns that the tongue is a muscle and can be trained to do amazing acrobatic things in the mouth! WOW! It can actually pull back, lift up, and come down again all on its own!
We work on breathing, holding our breath for a bit then pushing it out and then holding it again.
And when it comes to the actual /s/ sound I often try and go a NEW route bypassing the Snake-Sound route if that is what had previously been tried and failed so that we can create completely new sound patterns in our brain and think about our sounds in a completely new way.
We then work on producing the sound /s/ on its own for a bit, at the end of words, then on either side of complimentary sounds, for instance : ‘EASY” – the sound patterns here are EEE-S –EE : the EEE sound is complimentary to the /S/ sound as the tongue is at the right hight for the /S/ already once you have it in place for /EEE/ -……see?! EASY!
And gradually we work towards saying the /S/ sound clearly at the front of short words, then phrases and then sentences.
The process takes some time and it depends on how ready the student is. This varies of course hugely so I can never promise the exact number of sessions we will take to get that Lisp fixed. A lot depends on home practice in between sessions, and this is of course crucial to all therapy! Every day 15-20 mins practice is a good average time to aim for and when this is done it shortens the therapy block drastically.
I always give plenty of home work so there is never a chance of it getting boring or there being “nothing to do”!
Do contact me. I really enjoy working with this type of student and get a great kick out of FIXING THAT LISP!
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.