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  • Writer's pictureAlison McDonald


Tricky Tongues

Many parents are concerned that their child has a lisp. In small children it can be an endearing feature, however as children progress towards school, most parents are keen to rectify this speech pattern. I am often asked if children will simply ‘grow out’ of a lisp. There is no simple answer to that question, as it often depends on why the child is speaking with a lisp.

So what causes a lisp?

A lisp occurs when the person has a fronted tongue position, and the tongue tip protrudes between the teeth when saying /s/ and it’s related sound /z/. There are two main reasons why this occurs: 1. The child has not learned the features of the sound system. He or she may be able to produce a very clear /s/ sound but not know when to use it in speech. This is what is called a phonological pattern.

2. The other cause of a lisp is a more permanent fronted tongue position which may be indicative of an orofacial myofunctional disorder. This can be the result of allergies, enlarged tonsils and adenoids or excessive thumb or finger sucking.

What to look for in your child

• A preference for breathing through his / her mouth • Speech sound errors – the /s/ sound is often the sound identified by parents, but other speech sounds can be affected too. • A “wobbly swallow” – Watch your child take some sips of water. Do your child’s lips and chin wobble or quiver when they swallow? This is indicates that your child is not placing his / her tongue correctly when swallowing and is not developing the correct strength and control of the tongue muscles. A correct swallow pattern is essential for maintaining correct alignment of the teeth.

What to do if your child lisps

What often starts off as being ‘very cute’ can lead to longer term issues with speech and teeth alignment. It is always best to seek professional advice about your child’s lisp by the time they attend preschool and before they lose their first teeth. A tongue which is quickly trained into the correct position for swallowing and speech will have minimal impact on the development of a child’s adult teeth and may save the need for orthodontic treatment in later years.

How does a Speech Pathologist treat a lisp?

A Speech Pathologist will take several approaches to treating you child’s lisp by: • Increasing awareness of mouth and facial muscles • Increasing awareness of mouth and tongue postures • Improving muscle strength and coordination • Improving speech sound productions • Improving swallowing patterns

What to avoid

• Delaying assessment and treatment • Asking your child to keep their teeth closed when they try to say /s/. This will often lead to unnatural sounding speech and funny facial expressions. The best treatment is always working to correct the tongue placement by building muscle strength and coordination.

About Us

Newcastle Speech Pathology is a small private practice, specializing in personal, professional care of the highest standard. Please feel free to give us a call to discuss your child’s speech and language needs.

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