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What is a Lisp?

Lisp is a lay term used to describe a speech disorder. A lisp or lisping refers to a person’s difficulty in producing the /s/ or /z/ sounds. The problem is usually caused by incorrect tongue placement.

A frontal or interdental lisp occurs when the tongue protrudes (sticks out) between a person’s front teeth or touches their front teeth while trying to produce /s/ or /z/. In this type of lisp “bus” will sound like “buth.” A lateral lisp occurs when too much air escapes over the sides of the tongue while attempting production of /s/ or /z/. With a lateral lisp, /s/ or /z/ will sound wet or slushy because of air escaping and excess saliva.

When I tried to think of an example of someone with a lisp, “Sylvester the Cat” came to mind. Looney Tunes fans will remember the cartoon character who showered saliva everywhere as he used his famous catch phrase “sufferin' succotash.” Sylvester’s biggest challenge always seemed to be catching Tweety Bird, but in reality having a lisp can cause embarrassment and frustration for children as well as adults.

A lisp IS a speech disorder, but the cause is unknown. It is often part of normal development for some children and may be a developmental error that improves without intervention as a child learns new sounds. In others, it can persist beyond adolescence and into adulthood. A lateral lisp, however, is not a developmental distortion and typically requires intervention.

When should you seek help?

Although there is no perfect age to seek therapy, most speech language pathologists suggest seeking help around 4 1/2/ years of age. Waiting until a child is older may strengthen the negative oral habits, making them harder to break. In addition, older child may become more aware of his/ her speech distortions, which can have a negative impact on improvement. A lisp in an older child may also affect his/her academic performance in school, as well as social interactions. Teens and adults who lisp may experience negative emotions of shame, frustration, and low self esteem, but treatment can help!

Where can you find help?

A qualified SLP can perform an assessment to determine the presence of a speech disorder. He/ she can determine the type of lisp that is present and offer guidance based upon the results. Therapy for a lisp with a certified SLP is often short-term and successful. For more information on assessment or therapy, please contact Having Our Say Speech Therapy Services.

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