By: Rana Gupta, Jan 12, 2013

My child has a lisp. When should treatment begin?

How you can help your child with a lisp.

What is a Lisp?
A lisp usually refers to a difficulty producing the /s/ and /z/ sounds because of incorrect placement or positioning of the tongue. The tongue may be sticking out between the front teeth, or the sides of the tongue may not be high enough or tense enough inside the mouth. Both of these inaccurate placements of the tongue can result in articulation errors or distortions of the /s/ or /z/ sounds.

What is the difference between a frontal and lateral lisp?
A frontal lisp (interdental) occurs when the tongue sticks out between the front teeth. This error makes /s/ and /z/ sound like “th” sound (ie. yeth/yes). A lateral lisp occurs when the air escapes over the sides of the tongue. A lateral lisp often sounds “wet” or “slushy” because you can hear the sounds of saliva.

When should treatment begin?
In young children, a frontal lisp is often a developmental distortion. This means that it may improve on its own as a child develops new sounds. Therefore a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) may wait to provide intervention for this articulation error until a child is six, seven or eight years old. A lateral lisp is not a developmental distortion. Treatment may therefore be recommended as early as 4 – 4.5 years old.

Intervention Tips

  • One of the easiest ways to begin is to tell the child to bite, smile, and blow. This can help the child learn to keep the tongue behind the teeth.
  • Have the child alternate saying the sounds th-s-th-s-th-s-th-s…. in one long breath. This helps to increase awareness of the position of the tongue tip.
  • Have the child hold a feather, a kleenex, or put their finger in front of the center of the mouth. 
  • Then blow air through the front of the mouth while keeping the tongue inside mouth, lowering the tongue tip slightly.
  • Have the child place a straw between his/her teeth and direct the air stream through the straw.

Rana Gupta is a speech-language pathologist with Aspire Speech Pathology service Halton Peel region and the GTA. Rana specializes in interdisciplinary and professional skills, pre-school & school age articulation, language andliteracy development, adult neurological swallowing disorders and adult neurologicalcommunication disorders.