A lisp, or trouble pronouncing the “s” and “z” sounds, is what experts refer to as a Functional Speech Disorder. Lisps are fairly common among preschool-age kids, and often correct themselves as the child’s speech skills develop. There are instances where a lisp will need speech correction therapy, and it’s important to know when you should be concerned.
Speech-language pathologist Barbara Schacter talks about two of the more common types of lisps. Frontal protrusion lisps are seen most often, she says, and cause kids to pronounce the “s” sound as a “th” sound. This is the type that will most likely get better over time. The other type of lisp she mentions is called a lateral omission lisp. This is a more “wet” sounding lisp. A child with this kind of lisp may spit when trying to pronounce “s” and “z” sounds. Lateral omission lisps usually require corrective therapy.
Another cause for concern with lisps is when they don’t start to go away by the time a child is about five years old. Occupational therapist Melissa Idelson says that ideally, a child should be properly articulating all speech sounds by the time he or she enters kindergarten. If not, it can be difficult for them to process the reading and writing skills they will be learning. As they begin to explore letters and the correlating sounds, they may end up forming wrong connections that can cause problems as they move forward through school.
What you can do to help:
- Work with your child at home. You can help encourage some speech correction by having your child try to close his or her teeth when making “s” sounds. Some kids do well using the “butterfly” technique. This involves having them try to raise the sides of their tongue (like a butterfly’s wings) when saying “s” words. The idea is for the sides of the tongue to lightly touch the back teeth, which keeps the tip of the tongue from extending beyond the front teeth.
- See an expert. Arrange a consultation with a qualified speech therapist — there may even be someone you can be referred to through your child’s school. This person can help you determine whether or not your child’s lisp needs professional remediation.
- Keep your therapy sessions. Consistency is key with speech therapy. If you make sure that your child shows up to each session, the overall time it takes to correct the lisp will be greatly reduced. Skipping sessions means lost progress.
- Don’t be too intense about it. Whether in a therapist’s office or just working on speech sounds at home, keep your mood casual and your words encouraging. Kids will respond much better to speech therapy if they are relaxed and comfortable.