Does your child have trouble pronouncing words with “s” and “z” sounds? Chances are they may have a lisp. When I was asked to host this informative post by Dr Leanne Sherred, an online speech therapist, I thought it would be interesting to get a professional’s perspective on the topic of a lisp in children. She’s also going to share some 6 Techniques to help a child overcome a lisp.
Is Having A lisp A Big Deal?
My eldest daughter had a dummy (pacifier) for a long time. If I remember correctly, she had it until she was nearly 4 years old. I’m not going to lie, I used it as a crutch a lot. She was extremely dependant on it. At the time we moved around quite a lot, and with two little ones, I was never brave/strong enough to get rid of it before then. By this stage, both girls had them. It was a nightmare! One day, after a hellish 4-hour drive where I couldn’t find the dummy, I snapped. A week later, the Easter Bunny came and took all the dummies for his babies and left the girls some lovely giant chocolate eggs.
Please note, I never claimed to be a perfect parent.
One of the
many things that a number of people in the older generations used to say to me was that she would end up with a lisp. At the time I didn’t care. To be honest, I still don’t. She’s just turned 9 and sometimes I will hear a slight lisp when she’s talking. It’s usually only noticeable when she’s tired, or talking way too fast. I don’t know if it is because she was so dependant on her dummy for comfort for so long, or maybe she’s just got it. My dad has a lisp and to me, it’s not a big deal.
Advice from a Speech Therapist
While having a lisp may seem “cute” in younger children, it can be quite concerning for many parents. The number one question you’re probably asking yourself is “will my child grow out of it?” This is completely understandable. Many parents are worried their child’s speech will be affected as they transition into school age and adulthood.
Before we offer some instructional tips and at-home practices parents can use with their children to help overcome a lisp, let’s start with some basics.
What is a Lisp?
A lisp makes it difficult for a person to correctly pronounce their “s” and “z” sounds. This is often due to the placement of the tongue in their mouth. There are actually four main types of lisps.
- Palatal Lisp: A person’s tongue hits their soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth) when making “s” and “z” sounds
- Lateral Lisp: Air escapes out from either side of the tongue, making “s” and “z” sounds sound slushy
- Dentalized Lisp: A person’s tongue hits their teeth
- Interdental Lisp: A person’s tongue pushes towards the front teeth, causes a “th” sound instead of a “s” or “z.” This is also sometimes called a frontal lisp
Having a lisp is not an uncommon issue. Many children develop them temporarily as they learn how to talk, and in some cases, they are corrected naturally on their own over time.
Lisps often become noticeable after the age of two when children begin developing their language abilities. However, if a child’s lisp becomes more prominent as they get older and begin entering their Kindergarten years, it’s generally recommended that they receive intervention. As children get older, breaking the habit of a lisp becomes more difficult.
Therefore, if you feel your child is struggling with a lisp, it’s important to seek a professional evaluation early on. While dentalized and interdental lisps are part of normal childhood development, palatal and lateral lisps, are not. Recognizing the difference, and providing appropriate speech therapy exercises if needed, is the best way to get your child the help they may need.
How Can Parents Help?
Even if it takes a while to notice a lisp, there are steps parents can take immediately to help keep the lisp from becoming more pronounced. Below I’ve included a few best practices parents can start using today:
- Drink From a Straw: It may seem insignificant, but this trick can go a long way in helping to correct dentalized and interdental lisps. That’s because straws force the tongue to pull back into the mouth, promoting strong oral-motor strength. If you’re conscious about the environmental effects of using so many straws, you may want to invest a few dollars into an eco-friendly metal straw that can be washed and reused.
- Prevent Thumb-Sucking: Although it may feel like a staple of our childhood, when children put their fingers in their mouths it can lead to lisps as it may cause teeth to shift and create space for the tongue to protrude forward. This is a hard habit to break, and requires a lot of attention from parents. Try to substitute thumb-sucking with other comforting habits, such as providing a toy or blanket every time they attempt to put their thumb in their mouths.
- Model Good Speech: Children learn to talk and pick up speech habits from those around them – namely their parents and guardians. Therefore, it’s important to use, or “model,” clear and correct pronunciation when speaking with your child. Make sure to get on their eye level so they can see your mouth and how you properly form sounds.
- Practicing in Front of a Mirror: Encourage your child to stand in front of a mirror and closely watch their teeth and mouth when they make an “s” or “z” sound. This will help them associate the correct mouth movements with proper pronunciation. It can also be especially helpful for more visual learners.
- Butterfly Technique: To understand this common speech therapy technique, prolong the letter “i” when you say the word “win” or “bin.” Notice how the sides of your tongue raise up (like a butterfly’s wing), and are in light contact with the teeth? The butterfly position is what we’re aiming for to produce the correct “s” and “z” sounds. Using this visualization can help some children prevent the tip of their tongue from extending past the front teeth.
- See a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP): Speech therapists are communication experts, and are the most qualified professionals to help evaluate whether your child has a lisp. Due to the visual nature of a lisp, speech therapists can help identify the cause of the error your child is making, and will work with you and your child to develop an appropriate treatment plan. They will help your child recognize and adopt proper tongue placement, practice pronouncing certain words and phrases that are challenging for your child, and help them engage in productive conversations.
About Leanne Sherred, M.S. CCC-SLP:
Leanne calls Austin, Texas home but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has worked in pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Leanne is the founder of Expressable, an online speech therapy company that envisions a modern and affordable way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services. You can check out her blog here.
I hope you found this post useful. I’d be interested to know if you think a lisp in children is a big deal, and would you want to get it corrected? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks again to Leanne for her informative advice.