What is a lisp?

A “lisp” refers to a person’s difficulty producing  /s/,  /z/, /sh/, /zh/,  /ch/ and /j/ sounds because of incorrect tongue placement. Usually /s/ and /z/ are primarily affected, but frequently the other sounds are also impacted. The tongue may be sticking out between the front teeth, or the sides of the tongue may not be high enough or tense enough in the mouth, which causes the tongue to not achieve and maintain proper placement. Whether the tongue is coming out between the front teeth, or the sides of the tongue are not reaching the medial portions of the teeth, both articulation errors result in sound distortions.

The Difference Between Frontal and Lateral Lisps

An interdental (frontal) lisp occurs when the tongue sticks out between the front teeth. This error makes /s/ and /z/ sound like “th”, as in “yeth” for “yes”. A lateral lisp occurs when air escapes over the sides of the tongue. A lateral lisp often sounds “wet” or “slushy” because you can hear the sounds of saliva and air mixing in an unnatural way. The lack of a seal from the sides of the tongue not reaching the sides of the teeth allows air to escape and the saliva to be misdirected.

When to Start Speech Therapy?

In young children a frontal lisp can be a developmental distortion. This means that it may improve on its own as a child develops new sounds and their articulators develop and mature. Therefore, depending upon the child, a speech therapist may wait to provide intervention for a frontal lisp until the child is at least 5 years old. A lateral lisp is not a developmental distortion. Treatment can begin around 4 ½ years of age for a child with a lateral lisp.

Tips For Intervention

Here are some strategies to help a child with a lisp improve their tongue placement and jaw alignment in order to produce /s/, /z/ and potentially /sh/, /zh/ /j/ and /ch/ sounds:

Bite, smile and blow helps the child learn to keep the tongue behind the teeth by retraining the tongue position and not allowing the lips to engage in compensatory movements.

Place a drinking straw in front of the mouth right in the middle. When the air is flowing out the front correctly (in a small, focused stream) you will hear the air hit the straw. 

Produce a T into the straw held outside the teeth at midline.

Work on FINAL T with the straw – boat, coat, light, fight, mate, bait, etc.
Work on FINAL TS with the straw. This is called a “Long T” or “T with more air.” This can be done by working on “It’s” and “That’s” and by stimulating plural, possessive, and 3rd person verb marker.

Exploding T is used to teach the child to keep their tongue behind the teeth by using a sound that they already know how to produce, and by a sound that is produced in the same place. The child is asked to say the “T” sound, repeat it a few times “T, T, T” and then connect that sound to the “S” blowing air through the T and into the S..  For example, T, t, t, tsss. This helps the child find where to place the tongue for the S and Z sounds.

Coarticulation helps the child to find the correct placement for S and Z by using sounds produced in the same place. For example, a word ends in “t” and the next word starts with “s”. Hot Soup. A word ends in “n” and the next word starts with “s”. Can Soda. Word ends in “r” and the next word starts with “s”. Car Stop. A word ends in “k” and the next word starts with “s”. Park Store. A word ends in a “k” and the next word starts with “s”.  Cake Sink

TH→ S→ TH produced alternately helps the child to increase awareness of the tongue tip and its placement. This exercise is usually done after the child can produce S at least at the sound level. 

Oral motor exercises to support differentiation of the tongue, lips and jaw, rewiring their neuromotor patterns and then subsequently creating new synergistic movements of the articulators is crucial in working with articulation. 

Tools and materials used in speech therapy, such as apps and videos, along with direct instruction, guidance and feedback from the speech therapist, will help the child to produce sounds correctly in no time.  A home program is essential and is provided by the speech therapist, who guides the process and helps your child to become more intelligible and confident in their speech.  Sometimes articulation difficulties can impact spelling and reading, so getting speech therapy early is recommended. 

At Vibe, our speech therapists are trained to work with children of every age, and in every facet of speech and language.  We are experts in our field. The clinical and personal relationship we have with you is at the core of everything we do. From the resources we bring to support growth in communication, to the highly individualized therapy sessions. We offer collaborative partnerships with other providers, family and caregivers and we are committed to exceeding your expectations. We look forward to helping your child bring their best self into the world!

Contact Vibe Speech Therapy to learn more about how we can help you!