My child has a lisp ­– should I be concerned?

Posted on 26 December 2019

Even if it’s adorable, pronouncing words incorrectly is a hard habit to break when your child is older. Early intervention can help when it comes to speech impediments such as a lisp.

Tharina Coetzee, a speech and language therapist at Mediclinic Newcastle, explains that lisping describes the difficulty of the tongue in achieving the correct positioning to produce the /s/ and /z/ sounds. “There are four different types of lisps that can be explained by your child’s wrong tongue placement and the direction of the air flow when saying the sound,” she adds.

Interdental /s/ or /z/ is when the tongue protrudes between the front teeth and the /s/ or /z/ sounds like the /th/.

A dentalised lisp is when the tongue pushes against the front teeth and the air flow is directed forward, but the /s/ is slightly muffled and distorted.

The lateral lisp is when the tongue takes in the position of saying an /l/ and the air flow is directed over the sides of the tongue. A lateral lisp is not found in typical speech development and almost sounds ‘wet’ or ‘spitty’.

The most difficult lisp to correct is the palatal lisp where the midsection of the tongue presses against the soft palate when your child produces an /s/ or /z/.

“Fortunately, most children outgrow lisping around the age of four and a half,” Coetzee says. “Five years of age is usually a good age to start correcting a lisp. At this age the child will be able to follow the instructions and demonstrations that go with the correct production of the /s/ and /z/ sounds.”

Coetzee explains that a qualified speech therapist will do an in-depth articulation test to determine if your child has any speech-sound errors. “The sounds are investigated in all positions of words and in the different sound combinations we use,” Coetzee says.

“Traditional articulation therapy techniques will then be used to address the articulation error. This therapy technique follows a specific hierarchy in which the sound is taught to the child. Therapy usually starts at the auditory discrimination level to help your child hear the difference between the /s/ or /z/ and other sounds.”

Coetzee adds that reading and talking to your child is the best place to start with speech and language development at home. “If your child is struggling to say a certain sound correctly, use the mirror as a helping aid as this is a great form of visual feedback,” she suggests.

“While your child is watching you say the word in the mirror, they can monitor themselves to see if they are doing it the right way.”

And lastly, Coetzee suggests that you don’t encourage a child to say a word or sound incorrectly, even if everyone thinks it’s cute. It won’t be that cute when they are 20 years old.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.