As young children develop speech and language skills past their toddler years, imperfections are to be expected. However, some speech impairments may become apparent as your child enters their school-age years, usually before kindergarten.
A lisp is one type of speech disorder that can be noticeable during this developmental stage. It creates the inability to pronounce consonants, with “s” being one of the most common.
Lisping is extremely common, with an estimated 23 percent of people being affected at some point during their lifetime.
If your child has a lisp beyond age 5, you should consider enlisting the help of a speech-language pathologist (SLP), also called a speech therapist.
Specific exercises used in speech therapy can help correct your child’s lisping early on, and it’s also helpful to practice at-home techniques as support.
Consider some of the most common techniques used by speech therapists to help remedy a lisp.
Lisping can be broken down into four types:
- Lateral. This produces a wet-sounding lisp due to airflow around the tongue.
- Dentalized. This occurs from the tongue pushing against front teeth.
- Interdental or “frontal.” This causes difficulty making “s”and “z”sounds, due to the tongue pushing between spaces in front teeth, which is common in young children who have lost their two front teeth.
- Palatal. This also causes difficulty making “s”sounds but is caused by the tongue touching the roof of the mouth.
A speech therapist will treat a lisp with articulation exercises aimed to help with pronouncing certain sounds correctly.
1. Awareness of lisping
Some people, especially younger children, may not be able to readily correct their lisp if they aren’t aware of their difference in pronunciation.
Speech therapists can increase this awareness by modeling proper and improper pronunciation and then having your child identify the correct way of speaking.
As a parent or loved one, you can use this technique at home to help enforce correct pronunciation without simply focusing on “wrong” speech that could cause further discouragement.
2. Tongue placement
Since lisping is largely affected by tongue placement, your speech therapist will help you become aware of where your or your child’s tongue is located when you try to make certain sounds.
For example, if your tongue presses towards the front of your mouth in the case of a frontal or dentalized lisp, an SLP will help you practice tipping your tongue downward while you practice your “s”or “z”consonants.
3. Word assessment
Your speech therapist will have you practice individual words to get a sense of how your tongue is positioned when you try to make certain consonants.
For example, if your child has a frontal lisp and has trouble with “s”sounds, the SLP will practice words that start with that letter. They’ll then move on to words that have “s”in the middle (medial), and then words that have the consonant at the end (final).
4. Practicing words
Once your SLP has identified your type of lisp as well as the sounds you have challenges with, they’ll help you practice words with initial, medial, and final consonants. You’ll then work up to blended sounds.
It’s important to practice these types of words with your child at home, too. Your SLP can provide word and sentence lists to get started.
Once you’ve worked through tongue placement and are able to practice several words without lisping, you’ll move on to practicing phrases.
Your speech therapist will take your difficult words and place them in sentences for you to practice with. You can start with one sentence at a time, eventually moving up to multiple phrases in a row.
Conversation puts together all the previous exercises. At this stage, your child should be able to have a conversation with your or their peers without lisping.
While conversation techniques should be natural, you can practice at home by asking your child to tell you a story or for step-by-step instructions on how to complete a task.
7. Drinking through a straw
This supplemental exercise can be done at home or at any point your child has the opportunity to drink through a straw. It can help a lisp by keeping the tongue pointed naturally down away from the palate and front teeth.
While drinking through a straw can’t cure a lisp alone, it can help create the awareness of tongue placement needed during word and phrase exercises.
An unfortunate side effect of lisping is decreased self-esteem due to individual frustrations or peer bullying. While speech therapy techniques can help mitigate low self-esteem, it’s important to have a strong support group set in place — this is true for both children andadults.
Seeing a talk therapist, or play therapist for young children, can also help you work through difficult social situations.
As an adult, being uncomfortable with lisping can cause you to avoid speaking difficult words. It can also cause avoidance of social situations. This can create isolation, which can inadvertently worsen your self-esteem and create fewer opportunities for conversation.
If you’re a loved one or a friend of someone with a lisp, you can help by invoking a zero-tolerance policy for making fun of others with speech impairments or any other disability. It’s important that such policies be enforced in school and work settings, too.
Lisping can be common in small children as well as those who have lost their front teeth. However, if your child’s lisp goes beyond their early elementary school years or starts to interfere with overall communication, it’s important to see a speech therapist.
The earlier treatment is sought, the quicker a speech impediment may be corrected.
If your child goes to a public school and their lisping interferes with their academics, you may consider testing your child for school-based speech therapy.
If approved, your child will see a speech therapist up to a few times per week during school. They’ll see an SLP either individually or as a group to work on exercises aimed to improve their lisp. Contact your school’s administration to see how you can get your child tested for speech services.
It’s never too late to see a speech therapist as an adult. Some SLPs claim that with dedicated practice, a lisp may be corrected in as little as a couple of months. Depending on the underlying cause, treatment can take a bit longer, so consistency is key.
You can find speech therapists at rehabilitation centers and therapy clinics. Pediatric therapy clinics focus on children up to 18 years of age. Some of these centers provide speech therapy as well as physical and occupational therapies.
For help finding a speech therapist in your area, check out this search tool provided by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Lisping is a common speech impediment, which usually appears during early childhood. While it’s best to treat a lisp when your child is still in their early school years, it’s never too late to correct lisping.
With time and consistency, a speech therapist can help you treat a lisp so you can boost your communication skills and your self-esteem.