My Child Has a Lisp. Does She Need Speech Therapy?
Lisps are practically universal among small children who are learning to talk. In fact, they can be pretty darn cute. But when a lisp persists beyond a certain age, it’s time to consider whether speech therapy intervention is necessary.
Lisps usually last until about 4 years and 6 months, when they resolve on their own. Pay attention to your child’s peers and see whether your child’s speech stands out in this way. If your child is still talking with a lisp after age 4.5, it’s probably time to make an appointment for a speech therapy consultation. If the speech therapist recommends therapy, it’s best to start right away. The longer you wait, the harder the habit may be to fix.
It’s also a good idea to seek speech therapy services from a private clinic as opposed to relying on public schools to take care of it. It’s not that there aren’t good speech-language pathologists in schools (in fact, many are excellent). The issue is that many school therapists may not be able to treat a child with a lisp until age 7 or 8. Beyond that, if the lisp doesn’t directly impact the child’s education, school district speech therapists may not be able to treat them at all.
What Exactly is a Lisp?
The term “lisp” is a lay term in reference to difficulty with the sounds S, SH and CH, but it mostly pertains to the S. It’s a type of functional speech sound disorder that frequently occurs in kids and can persist into adulthood.
There are four different kinds of lisps:
Interdental. Also referred to as a “front lisp,” and is the most common. With an interdental “s,” a word like “soup” is pronounced “thoop.” There’s also the interdental “z” where a word like “zoo” is pronounced “thoo.” Basically, the “th” sound replaces the “s” and/or “z” sounds.
Dentalized lisp. This isn’t a formal diagnosis, but it’s how speech therapists describe it because it explains how the child is making the sounds. It’s similar to the interdental lisp in its result, but the cause is that the child’s tongue is pushing against their front teeth and directing air forward (resulting in a muffled sound), as opposed to an interdental lisp in which the tongue itself pushes forward or protrudes between the front teeth.
Lateral lisps. This is when the tongue is basically in position for making the “l” sound when trying to make the “s” sound, so the sound comes out kind of “slushy.” These are not characteristic of normal speech-language development, so anyone with a lateral lisp should proceed with a speech therapy assessment. (In fairness, it may be tough to tell exactly which kind of lisp your child has, which is why we recommend a consultation even if you’re just on the fence about it.)
Palatal lisp. This is when the middle part of the tongue comes in contact with the far back soft palate to make what basically sounds like a “h”-“y” sound. This kind of lisp also is not typical in speech development, and should be treated by a speech therapist.
On its own, lisping probably won’t reduce others’ ability to understand someone. But there are many reasons why intervention is advisable.
Why Some Kids With Lisps Need Speech Therapy
As we mentioned before, palatal and lateral lisps aren’t typical in child development, so they should be assessed and treated without delay. The more common types of lisps though can often go untreated – but only to a point.
Let’s put it this way: Even if the lisp doesn’t impact others’ ability to understand your child, it can still be damaging to their social and emotional well-being as they grow up. Even if you think it’s still cute, there is the risk of a child being teased by his/her peers (an unfortunate reality).
“No one says, ‘I love having a lisp,'” Dr. Sarah Lockenvitz said. As an assistant professor of speech-language pathology at Missouri State, she studies the life experiences of those with persistent lisps. “Something as minor as a childhood scar, acne or body odor can affect your self-confidence. A lisp can, too.”
Some kids may feel uncomfortable speaking in social situations, impeding their self-esteem. For an adult, it can be even worse. They may feel frustrated or embarrassed at work. Colleagues may unfortunately not take them as seriously, and it may even affect the opportunities they receive.
The good news is that our Fort Myers speech therapy team has effective interventions to help minimize the a lisp’s impact and help your child attain typical speech. Because habits can be harder to break over time, the sooner you begin treatment, the quicker the issue can be corrected and we can help your child’s overall communication improve.
How We Treat Lisps in Kids
Your speech therapist will assess your child’s speech, determine the kind of lisp they have, ascertain which kinds of sounds they’re mispronouncing and map out an individualized treatment plan to help you child attain their communication goals.
With lisps, this often includes things like:
- Boosting their awareness of where they put their tongue when they’re talking.
- Making sure they hear and recognize the difference between the incorrect and correct way to pronounce the sounds.
- Consistently model the correct sounds, including in more complex language with vowel-consonant combinations, spontaneous sentences, etc.
Each child is different, so the intensity and frequency of the treatment we recommend will hinge on their needs. Some kids might see substantial improvements in a few months and others might need a year or more of treatment. (This assumes also that there are no comorbidities.) As always, at-home practice with parents can be key in hastening success!
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Living with a Lisp, Nicki Donnelson, Missouri State
More Blog Entries:
Fort Myers Speech Therapist Insight: What’s a Speech Sound Disorder and How Do You Treat It? Feb. 4, 2021, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog