How to Help Your Child Overcome Their Lisp with a speech therapist. Many of us intuitively know what a lisp sounds like. Potentially you even had one yourself growing up.
Lisps are often caused by incorrect tongue placement within a person’s mouth. Their tongue usually touches or pushes against their teeth, and in some cases protrudes through them when speaking. This error may result in the perceived [th] sound instead of an /s/ or /z/ sound.
As a parent or caregiver to a child with a lisp, these speech imperfections can seem cute or endearing at first listen. As a consequence, it can be easy to overlook these distortions and naturally assume your child will eventually grow out of them with age.
While this is true for many children, for others lisps can potentially persist into adulthood. As children begin to more frequently interact with peers and enter school, feelings of frustration and embarrassment can negatively affect their confidence and self-esteem. They may be less likely to speak in public settings, volunteer in class, or simply avoid conversations altogether. That’s why intervention and proper treatment is so important.
When to be Concerned About a Lisp and Seek Treatment
Every child develops their speech and language patterns on their own unique timeline. Many parents begin to notice the signs of a lisp around 2 years of age. While lisps are common at this age, what’s important is that parents closely monitor their child for signs of abatement or progression.
While the clinical literature varies on the most opportune time for treatment, a good rule of thumb is to seek professional help if your child is still demonstrating a lisp by 4-5 years of age. In general, earlier treatment leads to quicker progress and better outcomes. This is because overtime a child’s speech patterns become more habitual and therefore harder to correct.
With that said, there are many different types of lisps, all with varying effects and severity, that could impact treatment decisions. For example, a lateral lisp in which the sound may be described as “slushy” or “spitty” is never a part of typical development, and warrants therapy at the earliest opportunity. If you’re concerned about your child’s speech patterns, it never hurts to speak with a speech-language pathologist and, if necessary, receive a comprehensive evaluation.
How Speech Therapy Can Help Correct Lisping
Speech-language pathologists are experienced communication experts that work to evaluate, diagnose, and treat a variety of speech and language disorders, including lisps. They’ll provide a recommendation on whether intervention is appropriate, or whether you should wait and observe your child’s progress until they get a little older.
In terms of treatment, there are many different techniques that speech therapists may use to correct a lisp. Many of these can also be practiced in the home setting by a parent or caregiver to help accelerate progress. This is especially important because children often learn best in the environment they are most comfortable – their homes. Additionally, it provides a safe and judgement-free zone where children can practice without the added social pressure of being around others. Make sure to ask your speech therapist for tips and activities that can be incorporated at home.
Some helpful treatment techniques include:
- Self-Awareness: Younger children in particular may not be aware of their lisp, nor the difference between correct and incorrect pronunciation of certain sounds and words. Speech therapy often begins by focusing on ways that a child can become more aware of their sound production. For example, a speech therapist may offer up the same word pronounced in different ways, and ask your child to identify the correct version. This is a great exercise that parents can also integrate at home during daily routines.
- Practicing the Right Words: Some children have difficulties with the /s/ and /z/ sound wherever they’re placed in words. Others may have trouble depending on where the /s/ or /z/ sound is specifically located within the word. For example, the words “sing,” “muscle,” and “glass” all contain the /s/ sound, but the sound is placed in the beginning, middle, and end of the word. Your speech therapist can help you identify the types of words and sound placement that requires extra practice. One simple way to help your child at home is by modeling “correct” verbalization of these words frequently in your daily conversations. When modeling words, make sure to maintain eye contact with your child so they can witness first-hand how your mouth moves to form the proper sounds.
- Incorporating Words into Phrases and Sentences: While some children may learn to properly pronounce certain words independently without a lisp, speech errors may reoccur when these words are used in longer phrases and sentences. Once your child masters the pronunciation of a certain word, your speech therapist may begin practicing that word in more complex language. As mentioned, modeling these phrases and sentences at home repeatedly can help reinforce correct sound production.
- Tongue Placement: As mentioned, lisps are often caused by incorrect placement of a tongue in a person’s mouth. Your speech therapist will help identify your child’s current tongue movement, and where it should ideally be placed. One great exercise to practice at home is having your child speak in front of a mirror and watch closely at how their teeth and mouth move when pronouncing sounds. This is particularly helpful for more visual learners. This technique provides immediate visual feedback and allows you to help guide and correct your child’s placement in real-time.
- Drinking Through a Straw: While drinking through a straw isn’t a magical elixir that will fix a lisp overnight, it’s a fantastic supplemental exercise to do in addition to other techniques. This is because using a straw naturally points the tongue downward away from a child’s teeth and palate. This can help reinforce proper tongue placement overtime.
Regardless of where your child is along their speech journey, it’s important to keep a positive and encouraging attitude. Try not to overcorrect your child and constantly point out their mistakes. This can make them self-conscious and less included to speak freely or practice their pronunciation. Instead, offer them lots of praise when they form a sound correctly and continue to model good speech habits. Over time, your child will begin to connect your positive response with their speech patterns and be more willing to practice and correct their pronunciations.