Evaluating and Assisting a Child with a Lisp

Many of us find it adorable if our child fails to pronounce certain sounds or different words. In many cases, the problem grows away as the child grows older and learns to pronounce words correctly. However, if a child fails to develop the right speech and you don’t offer speech therapy in time, things can take an ugly turn.

If you’ve heard of a lisp, the term describes a type of speech error. For children, the most common form of a lisp is when a child tries to make an ‘s’ sound but ends up making a ‘th’ sound. Typically, this happens when the child pushes his/her tongue out while making this sound because he/she is unable to keep it behind their top teeth.

What are the Most Common Types of Lisps?

We can break down lisps into the following four categories.

Dentalized Lisp: This type of lips occurs when the tongue pushes against the front teeth.

Lateral Lisp: When a child sounds are wet and slushy due to air flow escaping from the sides of the mouth. This type of lisp most commonly occurs for sounds /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ch/, and /j/. .

Frontal or Interdental: When a child’s tongue is placed between his/her front teeth during the production of /s/ and /z/ sounds, creating a /th/ instead (i.e., “thun” for “sun”).  This type of lisp is a common occurrence in children who just lost their front teeth, children who suck their thumb, or children who have prolonged use of the pacifier.

What Causes a Lisp?

Here are some common causes why children begin to lisp.

  • When they have problems with their jaw alignment
  • When they learn to pronounce sounds incorrectly
  • When their tongue is attached to the bottom of the mouth due to a tongue tie, which restricts the tongue’s movement
  • Prolonged use of pacifier or thumb sucking
  • Tongue thrust or when the child’s tongue protrudes out between his/her front teeth

Some of these problems are apparent from birth. For example, a child may have a tongue-tie at birth. Other issues may surface when the child learns to speak.

How to Fix a Lisp

Parents can do many things to help their child overcome lisping problems at home. Here are some of these useful ideas to fix a lisp.

  • Treat any sinus problems or allergies that are preventing your child from breathing through his/her nose. If a child breathes through his mouth, the open-mouth breathing will make the tongue protrude or lie flat.
  • Prevent the child from thumb sucking and keep his/her fingers out of the mouth as much as possible.
  • Allow your child to drink water or beverages using a straw. This type of sucking motion supports optimal oral-motor strength, which plays a critical part in language development.
  • Promote fun activities that can aid the oral-motor strength of your child. Some of the activities can include blowing a toy horn and making bubbles.

Have your child practice talking while looking in a mirror. That way, you can teach your child to put his/her teeth together while making the ‘s’ sound.

Set aside time to practice speech sounds and avoid correcting your child’s lisp publicly. Doing so could damage their self-confidence, making it more difficult for them to avoid making an error.

Why Treating a Lisp is Important

A lisp can affect many different aspects of your child’s life. A lisp can have negative effects on your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Many times, when a child develops a lisp, other children can have difficulty understanding him or her. This can lead to your child avoiding public speaking or avoiding making friends at school.

As a parent, you can help your child work towards proper articulation skills. You can help your child achieve proper tongue placement through some effective exercises. For instance, you can ask the child to close his bite before attempting the ‘s’ sound. A speech therapist can tell you more about this technique to prevent the tongue from protruding from the front teeth.

When to Talk with a Speech Therapist

If you have any concerns with your child’s articulation skills, reach out to a professional speech therapist. A speech pathologist can help screen, evaluate, and treat a lisp as well as any other speech sound disorders. Learn more about the different types of speech disorders.