Correcting Lisp: Causes, Types, Speech Therapies and Ways to Get Rid of It

Speech is a powerful and useful tool in communication, and anyone of us would feel low when they cannot pronounce a particular word as it is supposed to be.

If you have such a problem, you know how it feels. You would either avoid talking to people or you would avoid words that have letters you cannot pronounce. You might even stay in the house alone and try pronouncing those words. It is a real struggle, but the good thing, the condition can be corrected.

Lisping is one of the main speech impediment conditions where a person is unable to form sounds /s/ and /z/ and instead replaces these with sound /th/; they may also have problems pronouncing sound /r/, /ch/, /j/ and /ge/ among others.

An impediment is a condition that interferes with a person's ability to speak in a usual way; a person may be mute, talk very rapidly, may have problems with their voice or may not be able to pronounce certain words (known as lisping). 

It mostly affects children, most of who outgrow the condition, but sometimes the condition persists to adulthood. At adulthood, you sit there and wonder why your parents never took you to therapy when you were young.

But don't worry, in this article we'll look at ways to not only identify lisp but will give you tips to get rid of it once and for all.

Examples of Speech Impediments

The way human being acquire speech is a long and complicated process; let's not even go there.

Acquisition of speech begins at infancy, and we master language throughout life. Some people develop their skills slower than others. Others are unable to communicate altogether.

Some people can communicate through speech, but they have some defects or impediments. Examples of speech impediments include; 

  • Stuttering (stammering),
  • Cluttering (speaking rapidly and erratically),
  • Lisping

Causes of Lisp

To produce a sound, you have to alter the way you position your lips and your tongue in relation to each other or relation with the teeth and your jaw.

Again, the way we control how air flows into our mouths, noses, and throats can determine how we produce sounds. 

A lisp is experienced when the tongue cannot be placed correctly in the mouth during the formation of certain sounds. You can see how the different tongue placements affect the formation of sounds in the "types of lisps" section. 

While the leading cause of lisping is not clear, there are several factors that contribute to lisping, including:

  • Tongue Thrust: This is a condition where the muscles of the tongue are not well balanced. This condition is common in children and might persist into adulthood. Tongue thrust is mostly caused by the use of pacifiers or thumb sucking.
  • Under or over bit: An under bite or an overbite can also cause lisping
  • Tongue-tie: This is a birth defect that impairs the mobility of the tongue. When the tongue cannot move during the formation of certain sounds, a lisp is developed.
  • Upper respiratory illnesses: When children suffer upper respiratory diseases, they are forced to breathe through the mouth, which can affect healthy speech development.
  • Stress: Lastly anyone who suffers emotional or psychological stress in adulthood can affect normal speech leading to lisping.
  • Teething: In children, lisping can be experienced during teething. When a child is missing some of the teeth, especially the upper teeth, they might lisp. The same scenario might be experienced in adulthood where loss of teeth can lead to lisping. 
  • ​Jaw Misalignment: Misalignment of jaws during adulthood can also cause lisping.

Types of Lisps

Lisps are categorized into four; each for a different pronunciation inability.

  • Inter-dental Lisp: Also referred to as frontal lisp, inter-dental lisp is the inability to pronounce sounds /s/ and /z/ and instead pronounce them as /th/. In such a case, a word such as ‘soup' would be pronounced as ‘thoup’ and ‘lisp’ would be pronounced as ‘lithp’. Frontal lisp is common among children between age 4 and 5 but they soon outgrow it. It usually occurs when the tongue pushes forward between front teeth pushing air forward with it.
  • Dentalized Lisp: This type of a lisp is almost the same as frontal lisp in that the air is pushed forward. The tongue, after pushing air forward, rests on the front teeth when sibilants (sounds produced by hissing) are articulated. In this case, the sound is mostly muted, and some sounds do not come out clearly.
  • Lateral Lisp: The air gets pushed out from the sides of the mouth. Have you ever heard someone talk and you feel like their mouth is full of saliva? That is what a lateral lisp feels like.
  • Palatal Lisp: In this type of lisp, a speaker might try to articulate sibilants, but the middle of the tongue gets in contact with the soft palate, and the sound comes out distorted.

Speech Therapy for Different Types of Lisps

Now that we know the different types of lisps. Below are some of the techniques to help you get rid of your lisp once and for all.

1

Therapy for Frontal/Interdental Lisp

As mentioned earlier, frontal lisp results in the child replaces sound /s/ and /z/ with sound /th/. In most cases, it is caused by tongue thrust but not all cases are a result of tongue thrust.

The treatment of frontal lisp starts with assessment. Here, the child is given a list of words with sibilants to read. The words should have the /s/ and /z/ sounds in different positions; the sounds should be at the start, middle and final positions. There should also be blends of words. Note down the words that your child can read correctly and which they lisp.

Examples of words you can have in such a list include:

Initial position

  • See
  • Siren
  • Simple
  • Son
  • Soy

Medial Position

  • Pieces
  • Pacifier
  • Lisp
  • Whistle
  • Dinosaur

Final Position

  • Case
  • Mice
  • Boss
  • Dice
  • Class

Initial and Final /s/ Blends

  • Smile
  • Sweet
  • Snake
  • Snow
  • Doughs
  • Forests
  • Lost

During the assessment, identify the sounds that the child can pronounce correctly among those on your list. If there are some words that he/she can pronounce correctly, ask them to pronounce the words and while at it, feel the position of their tongue.

Your child should be able to tell you how the tongue sits at the back of the mouth and the position of the tongue tip; whether the tip is up or down.

Some children can pronounce sibilants with the tongue tip up behind the upper front teeth and some can pronounce them with the tip down behind the lower front teeth.

Whichever words the child says, ensure that he/she can say them clearly without any lisp; this is why you need to give the child as many words as possible with sibilants on different positions of the words. If a child starts lisping on a word, drop it and choose a different one.

You might have to practice the /s/ and /z/ sounds in the word(s) until your child can feel exactly where the tongue lies in the mouth. Which is kind of why, a speech therapist is more suited to handle the treatment.

If your child cannot pronounce any word on your list without lisping, you might have to try new words or you train them on pronouncing one word; here, you will have to use elicitation technique to train a word.

2

Use of Elicitation Technique

If a child cannot pronounce any of the words you present to them without lisping, try teaching them how to pronounce these words with any of the following techniques:

1.

Exploding /t/: The sound /t/ is made in the same place in the mouth as sound /s/. As such, when a child can pronounce sound /t/, it becomes easier for them to learn sound /s/.


Let the child say; t,t,t,t many times and then explode when forming the last /t/ sound. It will come out something like t,t,t,t,t,tssssss.


Let them repeat many times and sometimes stop them in the middle so that they can practice the /s/ sound like t,t,t,t,tsss….ssss.

2.

Co-articulationHere, you need to choose a sound that is produced in the same place as /s/ sound and then put them end to end.


For instance, sound /t/ and sound /s/ are placed almost the same way as seen above. Therefore, you can get your child to pronounce words such as ‘cut snip’ or a bunch of so many other words that require the tongue to be at the back of your mouth including /r/ and /k/ sounds such as ‘bear skin’ or ‘black slipper’ or any other you come up with.

3.

Forming the /z/ sound: Once a child is able to produce the /s/ sound, let them practice humming to turn on their voice when producing the /z/ sound.


While humming the child can place their hand on their throat and feel the hum. Or, they could hum a small tune with the /s/ sound.

3

Practice with Single Words

After you have identified the natural position of the tongue when producing sibilants, you need to start practicing. Practice starts with single words with sibilants on different positions.

The best words to start practice with are those words the child is able to clearly pronounce and words related to them. If a child is able to pronounce the word ‘gets,' let them practice related words such as ‘bets' and ‘lets.'

After mastering these words, introduce words that are almost similar to them, such as ‘best,' ‘lest' and ‘gest' among others. Ensure that a child has mastered /s/ sounds on one position of a word before branching on to another position.

4

Practice Until Mastery

From single words, practice different sounds on sentences and then engage the child in a conversation.

As much as possible take your days practicing different sounds and identifying the natural position of the tongue every single time.

5

Lateral Lisp Speech Therapy

Lateral lisp is not easy to treat; it is a condition where air is forced out from the corners of the mouth rather than from the front for sounds /s/, /z/ and /sh/.

The first thing that most therapists do is to identify words that cause lisping. Some of the sounds a therapist might discover include /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ge/ (like when they want to say beige), /ch/ and /j/. 

Sometimes, a child can clearly pronounce these sounds when saying them individually or they can lisp even when sounding them individually. Note that, there are different ways to treat lateral lisp, what we will look at here is just one of the ways.

After identifying the challenging sounds, create a list of words with those sounds. After trying many words, you might realize that there are some words that the child can comfortably and clearly pronounce.

If there is a single word that the child can produce, practice it several times until the child masters it. If there are no sounds produced clearly, try positional cues.

6

Positional Cues for Lateral Lisp

When a child cannot pronounce any words on your list properly, try describing to the child where they should place the tongue. Usually, the air is supposed to escape through the front of the mouth and that is what the child should practice.

Because it can be challenging to get a lisping kid to produce air through the front of the mouth, try placing a straw in their mouth and asking them to blow air out. As they do that, they will feel the air flow through the straw; if there is no air flowing through the straw, there will be noise.

Even when the child works with a speech therapist, parents should help them pronounce different words at home – usually those the child has been practicing with the therapist and the ones he/she is able to successfully produce.

7

Using Related Sounds to Treat Lateral Lisp

Just like when you are treating inter-dental lisp, you can use sounds produced the same way as /s/ to treat lateral lisp. Sound /t/ is the most common related sound.

Any other sound that the child can produce with forward air flow should be used to strengthen their speech when forming sibilants.

For instance, you can use the /t/ sound example used in the treatment of frontal lisp. Let the child produce sound /t/ but hold it out for longer to produce sound /s/ at the end such as t,t,t,t,tssss…ssss.

If the child can produce these related sounds by blowing air from the front of the mouth, you need to practice them more and more.

8

Try Single Words

When the child masters a sound, such as t,t,t,tssss, let them practice pronouncing sets of words with the same sound combination such as ‘boats’ and ‘cats’ among others.

Give the child a long list of words with exploding /t/ until they can master all of them. This stands a great foundation for new challenging words.

After mastering the tsss sound at the end of a words, let the child practice exploding /t/ sounds that appear in the middle of a sentence such as ‘pizza’ and ‘artsy’. 

By practicing such words every day at home, a child will master all the challenging sounds with ease. However, new challenging words should not be introduced until all the simple sounds have been mastered.

9

Learn Phrases and Sentences then Converse

You might spend weeks practicing the exploding /t/. The child will master that but there are so many other sounds to master.

After a few weeks, try separating the sound /t/ from the sound /s/ so the child can produce them individually. This can be done by producing the same t,t,t,t,tssss sound but breaking in the middle of the last exploding /t/ without moving the tongue. This will result in t,t,t,t,tsss….ssssss, where the /t/ sound is produced separate from the /s/ sound.

By severally practicing the exploding and broken exploding /t/ sound, the child is able to start with the /s/ sound instead of always starting with /t/. Once they can start with the /s/ sound, introduce words that such as ‘soup’, ‘skirt’, ‘slip’ and any other that starts with /s/.

Introduce the mastered words in phrases and sentences and see how the child fairs. You can get the child to read sentences with /s/ sound and listen to how they pronounce the words in the sentence.

In most cases, the child will learn to repeat any words they might have missed when reading the sentence. At this stage, the child will learn to correct /s/ sounds during her speech as well.

10

Learning Other Sounds to Treat Lateral Lisp

The /s/ sound should be learnt first before other challenging sounds are practiced. This sound is easy to make as the child only needs to blow air out through the front of the mouth without producing a voice.

After mastering the /s/ sound, now practice the /z/ sound which is produced almost the same as the /s/ sound. All you have to introduce is the voice on top of the /s/ sound.

Move on to practice other challenging sounds such as /sh/, /ge/ and /ch/ starting with simple sounds, then simple words, phrases and sentences and lastly engage the child in a conversation or get them to read stories with these sounds.

Each of the above sounds is learned the same way the /s/ sound was learnt. The success of the therapy depends on practice and as such, parents need to engage their children more at home to continue from where the therapist left off.

Lisping adults need more practice to get rid of lisps seeing that they have been mispronouncing words their whole life; breaking that habit requires more hours.

There are many other ways that lateral lisp can be corrected; the most challenging part is identifying the first sound that the child masters and getting them to repeat that sound over and over.

11

Therapy for Dentalized Lisps

In dentalized lisping, the child is again unable to produce sibilants correctly. While in inter-dental lisp the child protrudes their tongue out through the front teeth when producing sibilants. Children with this condition will push their tongue up against the front teeth.

Dentalized lisps should not be cause for alarm as they occur as a stage in speech development in some children. After age 4, the child grows out of the lisp and starts producing sounds in a normal way.

However, it is still recommended that you see a speech-language pathologist even when you think your child will ‘grow out’ of the dentalized lisp.

12

Dentalized Lisp Assessment

Every therapy starts with assessment to determine the speech abilities and difficulties of a child.

In some cases, you might think a child has a dentalized lisp while what they have is a different speech impediment condition. During assessment, the speech-language pathologist will analyze a child’s skills, fluency, and quality of voice.

The assessment helps the therapist choose the most appropriate method of treatment.

13

Treating Dentalized Lisp

Dentalized lisp is first treated through articulation therapy. Here, the child is taught to distinguish between correct articulation and incorrect sound articulation. It helps if there are some words with the /s/ sound that the child can articulate correctly.

This way, you can get them to produce the correctly articulate sound and then have them compare their tongue position with when they produce the incorrectly articulated sound.

Just like in other therapies, the tongue position matters during dentalized lisp therapy. The therapist will guide the child through tongue placement when producing sibilants.

Start by learning the /s/ sound as explained in the interdental and lateral lisps above and then move to other challenging sounds. The child should practice single sounds and words until they can pronounce them correctly.

Usually, therapists will use auditory bombardment where the child is made to repeat certain words severally to stimulate their auditory sense. This way, the child is able to remember to correct the sounds when they appear in sentence or in conversations.

14

Treating Dentalized Lisp at Home

How many days in a week can you see a therapist? One, two? In most cases, your child will only meet the therapist once a week. As such, as a parent, you have to take the bulk of the treatment helping your child practice what they learnt with the therapist.

A therapist can leave you a list of words to practice at home with your child. A drinking straw can help your child blow air out through the front of the mouth and consequently produce the /s/ and the /z/ sounds. When the child drinks using a straw, they are able to pull the tongue back from its initial position.

15

Palatal Lisp Therapy

Palatal lisps are not common and when they occur, sometimes the children outgrow them.

However, a palatal lisp is not a stage in normal speech development and as such, if not corrected, the condition might persist. The condition occurs when the tongue rests on the soft palate when hissing sounds, /s/ and /z/, are produced.

The sound produced when trying to form these hissing sounds mimics sound /y/ and /h/. Parents can identify palatal lisp at home just by listening to their children speak.

If you child has this problem, it is important not to assume they will grow out of it and instead seek the help of a speech-language pathologist.

16

Treating Palatal Lisp

The method of treating palatal lisp is almost the same as treating any other lisp. Unlike in other types of lists, you cannot ‘wait for them to outgrow’ the condition as this might never happen. The longer the child lisps, the more challenging it might be to correct the condition.

As such, treatment should start as early as the child can take instructions from a therapist.

Treatment begins by helping the child distinguish between correctly articulated sounds and incorrectly articulated sounds.

This can be done by asking the child to read through a list with /s/ and /z/ sounds. Then the child is taught to position their tongue correctly when producing /s/ and /z/ sounds.

In this case, the therapist might use the butterfly technique; a child is asked to picture a butterfly when producing hissing sounds. In the butterfly position, the sides of the tongue are slightly raised and they lightly touch the teeth.

Just like in other therapies described above, the child should do a lot of practice at home starting with simple sounds, then simple words, phrases, sentences and then a conversation.

Some Facts on Lisps

Lisps are medically referred to as astigmatism; they are conditions where hissing sounds cannot be produced the normal way. 

Research shows that 1 in every 6 Americans suffers from one or another speech impediment; it might not be a lisp but 1 person among 6 has challenges communicating normally.

Lisps can result from emotional stress or trauma that a child undergoes when they are young. However, most cases of lisping are seen as self-limiting where the child does not make enough effort to form sounds correctly; this is why the condition disappears by age 8. 

However, even when the condition feels like its self-limiting, a therapist is still needed to correct it completely.

You can find more fun facts on this page.

Causes of Lisping In Adults

Do you know any adult that lisps? It is not uncommon for an adult to have lisps. Most of these lisps were not corrected when the person was a child and may be the adult doesn’t feel the need for therapy.

Some very successful people have lisps including Sean Connery, Jay Leno, Drew Barrymore, Olympian Michael Phelps, and Antony Kiedis.

Most of these people are not ashamed of lisping; otherwise they would never speak in public and especially to the media. Perhaps their successful status gives them the confidence.

In some instances, lisping and other speech impediments can develop suddenly in adulthood. This should not be cause for alarm as most of the lisping cases in adulthood will self-cure without need for therapy.

Some causes of sudden lisping in adults include:

  • Tiredness and Anxiety: When you are tired or anxious, your mouth might get dry and you might end up slurring on some words. Taking the pressure off you back might help correct the condition.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol simply slows down the communication between your brain and your body therefore causing slurred speech.
  • Stroke: While stroke does not necessarily cause lisping but rather most other speech impediments, it might cause some types of lisping such as lateral lisp.
  • Migraines: When you have migraines, you experience pain that messes up other senses in your body. As such, you might end up slurring on some words and lisping on some. This can be corrected by taking prescription drugs.
  • Neurological disorders: A neurological disorder such as Multiple Sclerosis affects how the brain sends information to other parts of the body. People with MS have speech problems. Another condition that might affect speech and result to lisping is brain cancer.
  • Medications: Some supplements and medications, such as those taken to treat allergy and blood pressure, can dry out the mucus in your vocal cords making it challenging to produce some sounds such as /z/. Sedatives and Narcotics impair your tongues mobility thereby causing lisps.

Sudden lisping in adulthood should not worry you as the condition is easy to correct with enough rest and treating the cause.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lisp

Although we did our best to provide as much useful tips to treat lisp, however we have added a separate section for questions and answers.

Can you Identify Type of Lisp?

You can identify the lisp based on the sound produced. The easiest lisp to identify is interdental/frontal lisp.

However, to be sure of the type of lisp one is suffering from, you need to visit a doctor who will make the preliminary assessment to determine the type of lisp.

Usually, the doctor will examine for any abnormalities in the mouth to identify the nature of the lisp. This examination will determine the kind of treatment most appropriate.

Is it Easy to Correct or Improve a Lisp?

To correct or treat lisping, you need to undergo speech therapy. It is easy to treat in childhood but as one ages, speech therapy becomes a challenge to master.

During speech therapy, a person is assigned a speech therapist who will guide them through the specific type of lisp. The therapist will help you align your tongue and teeth properly to pronounce specific sounds.

To achieve significant results, one needs to practice regularly throughout the duration of the treatment.

Lisping among children can be prevented by:

  • Treating cold, sinus and allergies as soon as they occur to ensure children do not breathe through their mouth.
  • Ensure the child does not suck their thumb and reduce the use of pacifiers
  • Give your child a straw when they are taking drinks

Does a Lisp Result in Additional Problem?

Lisping does not affect a person’s day to day life. Even when you have a lisp, you can still talk and be understood by others. The problem comes when the person is ridiculed – this is common among children – or humiliated.

This can take a toll on their confidence and make them avoid situations that involve them talking to people. In severe cases, ridicule and humiliation can cause depression or phobia.

How are Sibilants/Hissing Sounds Made?

Before we look at how lisps can be corrected, it is important to understand how sibilant sounds are made and what might be going wrong.

The sounds /s/ and /z/ are the most confused in lisps. These two sounds are basically then same or are made the same. To make these two sounds, you will have to keep your tongue behind your top or bottom teeth.

At that position, the tongue is curved slightly upwards until it touches the upper molars. When the tongue is curved, it forms a small groove through which air flows to produce a hissing sound.

The only difference between sounds /s/ and /z/ is whether or not a voice is use. Sound /s/ comes out as a hissing sound; it is referred to as a voiceless sibilant because what you hear when it is produced is the flow of air through the groove out of the mouth. 

Sound /z/ is a voiced sound; when producing it, you have to turn your voice on besides letting air flow through your mouth – your vocal cords have to vibrate.

Do Children Outgrow a Lisp?

It is normal for a child to have dentalized or inter dental lisp seeing that their speech is still developing. Lisping is a stage in speech development for some children; at this stage, they refine their speck skills.

In most children, however, lisping will just disappear by the age of 5. If lisping persists beyond age 5, therapy should be sought. However, like we have seen above, therapy does not have to start at age 5.

Unlike dentalized and interdental lisp, palatal and lateral lisps are not normal in children; these two are not stages of speech development in children. If your child is experiencing palatal and lateral lisp, seek the help of a therapist.

When Should Therapy Start?

Palatal and lateral lisps, which are not normal for children, should be corrected early – when the child is between 5 and 6 years. 

However, the correction age will depend on whether the child is able to follow a therapist’s instructions. These two types of lisps are challenging to correct and as such, a child might need to be older to get treatment.

Dentalized and interdental lisps are seen as ‘normal’ in the development of children. However, ‘normal’ in this case cuts through a wide range. It is not clear when children master the sounds /s/ and /z/ and as such, it is challenging to know when to start treatment.

Did you know?

Up to 75% of children will have mastered these sibilants by 4.5 years, 85% by age 5 and 90% by age 9.

Even though the lisp can disappear after age 9, it is recommended that treatment starts by age 5. It is challenging to break a habit after a child has been at it for more than 6 years.

However, a 5 year old child may not follow therapists’ instructions and therefore the need to wait until a child is 7 or 8.

Many factors determine when a lisp should be treated including the severity of the lisp, the maturity of the child and the type of lisp. For adults who need lisp treatment, the best time to start is today.

Can a Lisp be Treated at Home?

It is possible to treat a lisp at home. However, many parents feel like their children are being lazy and do not want to pronounce the sounds as they should.

When you are speaking, do you concentrate on each sound you produce? Probably not. In most cases, you will be focusing on the content of your speech rather than the sounds you make.

This is the same case with people with lisp; they concentrate on the content of their speech – which words to use to make a sentence – and not the sounds in each word. This way, a child with lisp might form the sounds perfectly during treatment but they still talk with a lisp.

A speech pathologist determines the treatment level that best suits a child. Professional speech therapists focus on speech sounds and ensuring that the tasks are challenging enough for the child to make significant progress.

Therapy begins with the sound itself, then the syllable, words, phrases, small sentences, longer sentences, short stories and ultimately the child is engaged in a conversation.

Can Braces Correct Lisps?

Braces correct teeth misalignment. While this will improve your speech significantly, it may not help with lisps.

Most lisps are a result of incorrect placement of the tongue during formation of sibilant consonant sounds in words with s and z. As such, the alignment of the teeth might not have any effect on the position of the tongue during sounds formation.

However, correcting the alignment of teeth can help a child correct a lisp with ease.

Conclusion

We have provided detailed information on lisping and how it can be corrected. We hope you enjoyed the article and you benefited from it.

Of course, there are different ways of correcting a lisp but the ones we have provided above lay the basis for most treatments. If the problem persists, please consult your speech-language pathologist to correct the condition; the therapist will assess the condition and treat it.

If you still have any question on lisping, a suggestion or an addition, please let us know in the comments section below.

Leave a Comment