Lisps are speech disorders in which individuals are unable to produce a specific speech sound (or sounds). Many children lisp naturally as they learn to speak and produce specific sounds and it is common for children to grow out of a slight lisp. After about five years of age, however, lisping is no longer considered “normal” and should be investigated by a speech professional if it is keeping a child from communicating clearly or causing the child distress.
Types of LispsThere are four main types of lisps. Interdental lisps occur when individuals put their tongues between their teeth when attempting to make an “s” or “z” sound but instead push air outwards and create a “th” sound. This is often considered the most common type of lisp. Dentalised lisps occur when individuals put their tongues against their front teeth and push air outwards, result in a kind of muffled pronunciation of certain sounds. Lateral lisps occur when individuals put their tongues to the roof of their mouths and push air outwards, making a “slushy” sound. Finally, palatal lisps occur when individuals allow the mid-section of their tongues to touch the soft palate of their mouths. A “hy” sound tends to result.
Investigating LispsSome lisps, interdental and dentalised lisps, do naturally occur in younger children. Any child exhibiting these types of lisps should be allowed to progress as normal until about their fourth or fifth birthday. If, after this time, the lisp still occurs then an investigation by a trained speech therapist or pathologist should be sought. Lateral lisps and palatal lisps are not naturally occurring in child speech development and should be investigated when first recognised.
Assessing LispsLisp assessments are generally carried out by speech and language therapists, speech therapists or speech pathologists. During an assessment the individual’s mouth may be examined (to see if there is a physiological reason that sounds can not be made) and the individual’s language and speech abilities will be observed and investigated. It may be that children who have trouble producing certain sounds actually have another speech disorder that may be diagnosed at this time.
Treating LispsTreating lisps in children usually involves short-term speech therapy and is generally successful. Speech therapy sessions include a wide variety of activities and speech drills, though what specifically happens in any given session will depend upon many variables. The length of the therapy session (usually between a half hour and one hour), the location of the therapy session (whether at home, school or a private facility), the age of the child involved, whether the therapy session is private or involves a group, and the type of lisp that is being treated will all affect the content of these sessions.
During these sessions the child will be taught the isolated sound that he or she is having trouble with. When this sound is mastered, the child will then learn to say the sound in syllables, then words, then phrases and then sentences. When a child is able to speak a whole sentence without lisping, attention is then focused on making correct sounds throughout natural conversation. Towards then end of the course of therapy, the child will be taught how to monitor his or her own speech, and how to correct as necessary.