In my opinion, the most apparent speech sound error is a lisp. Even the untrained ear can sometimes detect when a child is lisping. Unfortunately, lisps are not only heard in children’s speech. In some cases where a persistent lisp is not treated during a person's childhood, it continues well into adulthood. This can make a person self-conscious about the way they speak and might even impact how they are perceived by others.
So, let's talk about lisps...
Why do some children have a lisp?
This usually occurs because a child has developed a habit of saying the 's' and 'z' sounds with the incorrect placement of their tongue and teeth.
Are all lisps the same?
There are different types of lisps. The two most common types I have seen in children are frontal lisps and lateral lisps.
How can I determine what type of lisp my child has?
You can identify the type of lisp your child has by observing your child’s mouth when they speak and tuning into their speech. These tips below will help you:
What it looks like: When a child has a frontal lisp on a sound, they inappropriately protrude their tongue between their front teeth when producing that sound.
What it sounds like: The sound your child produces will actually be the ‘th’ sound (e.g. the word ‘sun’ becomes ‘thun’).
What it looks like: When a child has a lateral lisp, they incorrectly produce a sound with their tongue in the position required to make the 'l' sound. This causes excess air flow over the sides of the tongue.
What it sounds like: Your child’s speech will sound ‘slushy’ or wet.
At what age should a lisp be treated?
This differs for different types of lisps.
A frontal lisp is actually an age-appropriate error until a child is about four and a half. Because of this, many therapists will not treat a frontal lisp until a child is just under five years old.
Unlike a frontal lisp, a lateral lisp is not part of typical speech development and is not appropriate at any age- so if your child has a lateral lisp, consult with a speech therapist.
What are some cues that I can give my child?
If your child has a one of these lisps, you can give them the following cues to help:
· Guide your child to keep their tongue inside their mouth when saying the 's' and 'z' sounds.
· Encourage your child to place their tongue at the roof of their mouth. Because the correct tongue placement is similar for both the ‘t’ sound and ‘s’ sound, practicing the ‘t’ sound (e.g. t-t-t-t) before working on the ‘s’ sound generally helps.
· Remind your child to keep their teeth together or smile when producing the 's' and 'z' sounds. This will help stop their tongue from protruding.
· Guide your child to focus on producing the sound from the front of their mouth as opposed to producing the sound from the sides of their mouth.
· Remind your child to swallow constantly before speaking to reduce the amount of saliva in their mouth. This will help reduce the ‘slushiness’ of their speech.
· Encourage your child to produce the 's' or 'z' sound 'gently'. This will help reinforce the fact that they do not need to push excess air from the sides of their mouth when producing these sounds.
How can a speech therapist help?
A speech therapist will first assess your child’s speech. They will identify the type of lisp your child has and for what sounds. The therapist will then formulate a therapy plan depending on your child’s target sounds, their motivation and their awareness levels.
Therapy typically begins with increasing your child’s awareness of their tongue and teeth placement. Therapy then focusses on auditory discrimination- ensuring your child can hear the difference between the correct and incorrect production of the target sounds. The therapist will then train your child to produce the target sounds in isolation, consonant vowel combinations, different word positions, phrases, structured sentences, spontaneous sentences, oral reading, oral narratives and structured conversations. The final step of therapy is creating opportunities for your child to practice transferring their new skills to situations and environmental settings outside of therapy.
How much therapy is needed for a lisp?
This is different for each child. I have seen children who required only a couple of months of therapy and I have also seen children who required a year of therapy. This depends greatly on a number of factors including:
· Your child’s awareness
· Their ability to follow cues provided
· Your child’s attention
· Frequency of home practice
· The type of lisp. In my experience, lateral lisps generally take longer than frontal lisps.
Why is home practice so important?
Therapy sessions alone are not enough to resolve a lisp. Imagine how many times your child has produced certain sounds with a lisp. As with all habits, this will not be easy to change and much practice is needed. The children who I see improve the quickest are always those who consistently complete home practice exercises. So, never underestimate your role in helping your child improve their speech!
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Bowen, C. (2011). Lisping: When /s/ and /z/ are hard to say. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on 5/6/2016.
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