What is a lisp?
A lisp is a lay term for a problem with the “s” and “z” sounds.
What are the different types of lisps?
Type 1: Interdental lisp – sounds like a person is saying “th” when they try to say “s/z”. As the term suggests, the tongue protrudes through the teeth, rather than contacting the alveolar ridge on the roof of the mouth.
Type 2: Dental lisp – produced with the tongue touching but not protruding through the teeth. Again, the problem is that the sound is being produced too far forward in the mouth. The “s/z” can sound a little muffled.
Type 3: Lateral lisp – produced by the tongue being flat in the mouth during production of “s/z”, so that air escapes down the sides of the mouth instead of being channelled down the middle. A lateral lisp can sound wet or “spitty”.
Type 4: Palatal lisp – results from the tongue being too far back in the mouth during production of s/z. The tongue touches the palate rather than the bumpy alveolar ridge towards the front of the roof of the mouth.
If your child is doing something else with their “s” (eg. omitting it or replacing it with a different sound), it may not be a lisp but a different type of speech problem.
Can a lisp be cured?
Yes! A qualified Speech Pathologist can help you or your child to correct this speech problem. A Speech Pathologist who is also trained as an Orofacial Myologist (like me) will correct the tongue thrust and any other accompanying oral problems.
Will my child grow out of his lisp?
Some therapists think that it is normal to have Lisp Types 1 or 2 (interdental/dental) until about 4.5years, and they recommend seeing a Speech Pathologist after this time.
However, in this post I argue that a lisp is often a symptom of a deeper problem. For this reason, I’d suggest seeing a Speech Pathologist with Orofacial Myology training when the problem is first noticed. Even if the child is too young to engage effectively in traditional therapy, it is important to get an early assessment.
Types 3 and 4 (palatal and lateral) are not produced by normally developing children and a child with these types of lisp should see a Speech Pathologist. A lateral lisp may be associated with a tongue tie, especially the submucosal type, which may be difficult to detect and is not always associated with early breastfeeding problems.
Why fix a lisp? I can understand my child perfectly
We can usually understand a person’s speech if they only have a lisp. For this reason, some people consider a lisp “cosmetic”. However, it’s worth considering possible long-term effects of a lisp. This page has letters from adults who lisp to a Speech Pathologist. Some report that they were bullied because their speech sounded different to others, and others wrote that they had problems getting a job. Kids with lisps may be perceived as being cute, but it can be another matter for a teen or adult.
However, more importantly, it is worth looking into the possible underlying cause of the lisp as there may be more at stake than “just the lisp”.
What causes a lisp?
A lisp may be part of an underlying problem with the tongue, including tongue tie (when a lateral lisp is involved), tongue thrust swallow (when the tongue touches the teeth or sticks out when swallowing) and abnormal forward tongue resting position. Associated symptoms may include mouth breathing, open bite and other dental problems, swallowing problems, sleep problems and snoring and problems with saliva control. Early assessment can help to identify critical problems, such as airway compromise.
Does therapy work for adults?
Motivated adults can learn to speak without a lisp, under the guidance of a qualified Speech Pathologist. Orofacial myology involves correction of functional tongue problems through exercises.
What does therapy involve?
Traditional therapy involves teaching the person how to produce the sound correctly. The therapist may use pictures, videos, spoken descriptions, touch and hand movements to help the person to understand where to place their tongue. Therapy involves the person learning to say the sound in progressively harder contexts, as shown in the picture below – beginning with saying the sound on its own, and working towards saying the sound in conversation. We also use the principles of motor learning to make therapy as effective as possible.
In contrast to traditional articulation therapy, the orofacial myology approach involves more thorough assessment and treatment of possible underlying causes of the lisp (eg. tongue thrust, tongue tie). Articulation therapy is integrated into this program.
Can I fix it myself?
There is no evidence that DIY speech programs work. It is best practice to consult a Speech Pathologist.
What should I do if I’m concerned?
Flick me a note here or comment below.
Start a conversation with a Speech Pathologist today!