Many parents seek speech therapy for correcting a lisp as it can sound a bit inappropriate, especially in older school-age children. As children develop their speech sounds, they progress through a certain number of speech processes. These are what we term ‘normal errors’ and we expect them to resolve naturally by certain ages.
A lisp is not a ‘typical’ speech error. It does not usually make a child’s speech harder to understand and will normally resolve naturally in the early years, but it is not possible to know for certain if this will be the case.
What is a lisp?
When producing the ‘s’ and ‘z’ speech sounds the tongue stays behind the teeth. A lisp occurs when the tongue protrudes through the teeth to make the ‘s’ and ‘z’ speech sounds, giving these sounds a ‘lispy’ quality, for example producing ‘thock’ instead of ‘sock.’
Is speech therapy for correcting a lisp necessary and when can it start?
As a lisp is not a typical speech error, therapy is strongly recommended to help resolve it. If a child has good attention and listening skills and is able to concentrate on tabletop activities with an adult for a 30-minute session, then I recommend to parents that they are ready to begin speech therapy. This could be from age 3 upwards depending on the individual child. A lisp is easier to correct earlier on provided the child is ready. S/he must want to get their ‘new s’ and feel motivated to participate in therapy sessions.
What does therapy for a lisp involve?
When helping a child with a lisp, I model the correct production of the ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds, highlighting to the child how my tongue is hiding behind my teeth. It may be helpful to demonstrate this in front of a mirror so that the child can try to copy. I give a child lots of opportunities to listen to the production of the 's' and 'z' sounds, discriminating between the 's' and 'z' speech sound and their error 'th.’ I then help children to produce 's' and 'z' correctly using visual cues such as diagrams and letters.
What can parents do?
An important part of therapy is practicing at home. I provide parents with worksheets and exercises to complete with their child at home in between clinic sessions. I find that most children manage to produce the 's' and 'z' sound correctly in therapy sessions and then it is up to the parents to help them practice at home to generalise this into their everyday speech. I give out advice sheets on how to do this with lots of ideas for games, and as long as the practice work is put in, success rates for lisp therapy are high.