Speech pathologists from Kids First Children’s Services in Sydney’s northern beaches explain why some kids lisp and what parents can do to help.
What is a lisp?
A lisp is a speech sound error that usually presents when a child (or adult!) has difficulty placing their tongue in the correct position to produce /s/ and /z/ sounds.
Why do kids lisp?
When your children are learning how to speak, they might lisp naturally…and up until the age of about 4 and a half, this is completely typical.
Depending on the type and severity if the lisp, most children grow out of this speech sound error, but for some kids, the problem does not resolve on its own.
This is sometimes because some children may have learned to say a particular sound the wrong way in the first place.
If this has happened to your child, the incorrect production of the /s/ and /z/ sounds may have become a habit.
When should you worry about your child’s lisp?
After the age of 4 ½ to 5, lisping is no longer considered part of typical speech development.
If your lisping child is at, or about to start school, they should no longer be lisping and their their speech sounds should be investigated further by a speech pathologist.
Early intervention can prevent your child’s lisp from affecting their confidence and speaking clarity.
There are 4 types of Lisps
|1. Interdental Lisp
Tongue sticks out between the front teeth, making /s/ and /z/ sound like “th” (e.g. yes à yeth or say à thay)
Part of Typical Speech
Development until about
4 ½ years of age
|2. Dentalised Lisp
Tongue touches front teeth while producing /s/ and /z/ sounds, pushing air outwards, which produces a muffled sound
|3. Lateral Lisp
Air escapes over the sides of the tongue, giving the impression that there is a ‘wet’, ‘slushy’ or ‘spitty’ sound because you can hear trapped saliva
Not Part of Typical
|4. Palatal Lisp
The /s/ and /z/ sounds are made with the tongue pushed against the soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth) producing more of a “hy” sound
Factors to consider when seeking speech therapy intervention
When a lisp is identified, the need for speech therapy will depend on the severity of the lisp.
For some kids, lisping on its own may not significantly alter or reduce their ability to be understood by others, but it might affect their confidence or social interactions.
If you are considering speech therapy for your child, remember:
- Interdental and dental lisps are part of normal speech development prior to the age of 4 ½, but lateral and palatal lisps are not typical at any age.
- The lisp may have social implications… Does the lisp place your child at risk of bullying or teasing?
- Age. The longer your child waits for therapy, the longer they have been using the incorrect method of speech production. This increases the strength of their habit, which can be more difficult to break and take longer to resolve.
- Will therapy work? This will depend on your child’s ‘stimulability’, which describes their ability to produce the correct /s/ or /z/ sound in isolation after being given feedback and instruction on it. It’s worth seeking advice!
If you are concerned about your child’s speech, it is beneficial seek advice from an experienced speech pathologist.
A speech pathologist is university trained to screen your child’s speech and can assess whether they have a lisp and more importantly, what type of lisp it may be.
If you child does have a lisp, a speech pathologist can help with activities and exercises that will help your child overcome their difficulty.
Get advice now
Kids First’s experienced speech pathologists have helped hundreds of children in Sydney’s northern beaches to overcome their speech and language issues.
Contact us on 9938 5419 to arrange a time for us to assess your child’s lisp.