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Does my child have a LISP?

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Many children develop a lisp. At first, it might seem a little cute, then you might think it's still there but he or she will grow out of it, and then you might get concerned he or she will never grow out of it. We all know of famous people with a lisp. There are those with a frontal lisp, such as Mike Tyson, Kelly McCreary (Grey's Anatomy) and Barbara Walters, and then there's Sean Connery, who has a lateral lisp. Yes! There are different types of lisps, 5 actually!

What exactly is it?

People with a frontal lisp tend to push their tongue outward, beyond or against their teeth when they produce certain sounds (s, z, sh, ch, j, sometimes even t,d, and n). It may be mild or more prominent. People with a lateral lisp tend to blow air over the sides of their tongue when they say these s and z, making it sound slushy. A frontal lisp may be known as a "tongue thrust" or be part of a more comprehensive diagnosis of "orofacialmyofunctional disorder." There are also other types of lisps that are less common that involve the palate and the teeth.

Why does my child have it?

Well, there are many reasons your child may have a lisp! It may be caused by a structural issue, or a behavior that began as an infant or toddler. Structurally it could be something such as these: Sinus issues, nasal blockage, allergies, anterior open bite, enlarged adenoids, small jaw, high or narrow arch in the roof of the mouth, having a high posterior tongue position with a short mandibular ramus, a long soft palate, posterior airway obstruction (such as englarged tonsils), or ankyloglossia (short attachment under the tongue that may impair normal growth and development of the oral and nasal cavities, which then impacts the muscle patterns and function).

Behaviorally, it is generally caused by prolonged sucking beyond the first year of life (i.e. breastfeeding, pacifier, or even sippy cup use), but also behaviors such as biting/sucking on fingers. A child may also develop it due to imitating the pattern from a close relative who also does it. Finally, if none of this seems to fit the bill, it may be hereditary.

The cause was a problem, but isn't anymore, why does my child still have a lisp?

If your child no longer has the physical issue or the behavior that may have initially caused the lisp, it probably won't just go away. It is like any other habit than you may have, and once the child develops this pattern, it is very hard to break. It is your child's normal. The child will need to learn new behaviors, sometimes this includes how to breathe properly (without the tongue pushing against the teeth), drink liquids properly (without the tongue pushing out), and how to say his or her sounds correctly.

Can therapy help?

Your child should have a complete assessment by a speech-language pathologist to determine if there is currently still a structural issue that may prevent your child from being able to remediate the lisp. In most cases, we see children who have developed the lisp from behaviors earlier in life or structural/illness-related causes and they are able to make a complete repair of the lisp, but a full assessment is needed to determine if your child is able and ready for treatment. We may have to refer your child to other specialists to consult on a related structural issue before being able to treat your child. Once we have all of the information that we need, we begin a treatment program that may involve various types of activities and exercises. The most important part of your program will be the consistency with which the new skills are practiced on a daily basis.

It seems like some people embrace the lisp, should we just leave it go?

It is totally your choice, but here are a few reasons you may want to consider treatment:

- Expensive orthodontics! If your child has a lisp, the tongue may be pushing so hard against the teeth or palate that your child may require a lot of orthodontics. Without therapy, the teeth will become misaligned again when orthodontics are removed.

- Confidence - children get bullied for lisps far too often. Although we wish no one was this cruel, it is our reality.

- Reading & writing - A child with a lisp may have difficulty spelling or reading because they cannot make some of the sounds needed to read and write well.

Navigating your options and making sense of your child's communication disorder is not always an easy task. Contact an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist if you have questions and would like more guidance. At Expressive Connections, we are happy to help and to make the process as positive as possible!

Feel free to contact us at 626-799-7955 so that we can help you.

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