Although lisps among young children are fairly common, this issue can still be a source of concern for many parents. The main fear is usually that the lisp will never go away, and that it will potentially become a source of ridicule for the child. This concern is valid; the unfortunate truth is that while society tends to find children with lisps endearing and cute, teenagers and adults who have not managed to get rid of their lisps are often teased and made fun of, and sometimes suffer from self-esteem issues related to their speech impediment.
Make sure to identify whether what your child has is indeed a lisp, or rather some other sort of phonological speech impairment. Lisping is defined as a misarticulation of the sibilant /s/ and /z/ sounds and may fall under the categories of interdental/frontal, decentralised, palatal, or lateral lisps, depending on the placement of the tongue and how the sound is produced. So, what is to be done if your child has a lisp? Many parents are uncertain as to when to start lisp speech therapy, or whether they should “wait it out” to see if the lisp goes away on its own.
Firstly, it’s important to take your child’s age into consideration. It’s not uncommon for some young children to lisp up until they are four and a half or five years old. This is because they are still mastering their articulation skills, and the sibilant /s/ and /z/ sounds will often come out sounding either a little bit muffled or like a /th/ sound. If your child is under the age of five and has a lisp, you could consider scheduling an assessment of your child’s speech with a speech language pathologist, who would be able to determine whether treatment is necessary. However, if your child is already beyond kindergarten and still speaks with a lisp, then it’s important to take action as early as possible before the lisp becomes a deeply rooted habit that becomes harder to break. Lisps in children beyond the age of five are not considered part of normal speech progression.
Aside from your child’s age, there are other factors that shouldn’t be ignored, as they may contribute directly to your child’s lisp. For example, a missing front tooth, a new retainer or set of braces, or an oral injury could be causing the lisp, in which case treatment may not be an immediate necessity. In the case of an oral deformity, however, it may be necessary for your child to have professional assistance.
Lastly, you should also evaluate whether there is a possible non-physical reason behind your child’s lisp. Lisps in children have been known to form out of habit, from imitation of others, as a reaction to stress, or as a way to seek attention. Lisp speech therapy seeks to identify the source of the lisp, and arm your child with games, tools, exercises, and goals to eliminate the lisp over time.
Lisps in children are often identified early-on, usually by parents or teachers, and can be corrected with proper practice and treatment. The best thing that you can do as a parent is to become as informed as possible, and aid your child patiently and encouragingly so that they don’t become sensitive, overwhelmed, or frustrated. Even if your child is well into elementary school, or is already a teenager, it’s not too late to get them started. There are even grown adults who are completely successful in eliminating their lisps through lisp speech therapy and diligent hard work.
Here are some tips on doing your own lisp therapy.
1. You will need to listen closely to how other people speak. Chances are that you already do this, because we hear conversations all the time, but really listen deeply into what’s going on.
2. Spend 10 – 20 minutes every day working on improving your speech.
3. Start with the /s/ sound. Practice just saying S’s.
4. Most lisps are caused by improper air travel. The idea is to project air straight out the mouth as the S is produced. With Interdental, Lateral, Dentalised and Palatal the air does everything but that, and usually travels around the sides of the tongue. Focus on keeping it moving straight.
5. Be aware of where your tongue is. It should not be between both sets of teeth, pressing into the palate, or pressing too much into the upper row of teeth.
6. Keep track of how many times you actually say S correctly, and write it down for your own encouragement.
7. Once you can say the /s/ sound 85% – 90% of the time correctly, move on to small words such as Still, Sand, Sad, Sun, etc.