Most children lisp when they are learning to talk. This is simply because some sounds are harder to make than others—the most difficult being S and R. Lisping occurs when an S sound is mispronounced as ‘th’. So, to prevent this situation we will tell you some important do’s and don’ts of Lisping.
How Speech Develops?
When children learn to talk, they don’t suddenly make all the sounds that an adult does. Speech develops slowly, as the child learns to pick out the individual sounds of the language.
Young children can only make a few sounds, but when they are speaking, you can usually understand once you are used to their way of speech.
The development of speech sounds is a very technical matter, depending not only on how hard a sound is to make, but also on the important ‘contrasts’ in the language being learned. Typically, and without knowing it, a child first learns to contrast the consonants and vowels (a,e,i,o,u)—for example ‘mama’ and ‘dada’.
Then other consonants come in, all made in different ways, such as B, P, T and F. Try these sounds yourself and you will see how much a child has to learn.
Some contrasts are not important for a particular language, for example, ‘dlove’ or ‘glove’ sound the same, even to an adult, as we do not have ‘dl’ at the beginning of words in English. But a child has to discover that the difference or ‘contrast’ of the word ‘S’ from other sounds is important in English, and how the S sound is made.
To make an S properly, the sides of the tongue are raised so that they meet the upper teeth; then with the tongue tip behind either the top or bottom front teeth, air is blown along the narrow center channel made with the tongue and it escapes between the teeth in a hiss. Some people never manage to get their tongue in the right position and, without speech therapy, may reach adulthood with a lisp.
Causes of Lisping.
It is not uncommon for a normal five-year old to be able to say ‘sun’, ‘soup’, or ‘sand’, where S is followed by a vowel, but not be able to say ‘spoon’, ‘stamp’ or ‘sleep’, where S is followed by a consonant.
After the age of six, most children are able to make all the sounds of the English language, in the right order in a word. Children of six who have lisps and are not able to speak properly may have delayed or disordered speech development.
Physical problems causing a mild speech difficulty or lisp are rare. Whatever the shape of the mouth, teeth or tongue, most children can compensate for any abnormalities, such as a small or large tongue. However, missing front teeth or top and bottom front teeth that don’t meet properly, often cause a lisp.
It is unusual for adults to lisp, or start lisping, unless they lose their front teeth and do not wear dentures. But adult speech problems may be caused by a stroke or Parkinson’s Disease.(1)
Older children may start lisping or speaking in a babyish way when they are, in fact, able to speak well. This happens most commonly when a baby brother or sister is born and seems to be getting most of the parents’ attention. The older child tries to win back the parents’ love by being a baby too.
Sometimes there are other causes of speech delay, such as immaturity— either real or from the child being treated like a baby, or from inadequate opportunity to learn. When the child is not spoken to sufficiently by an adult.
Lisping that is not associated with any other speech or language difficulty is unlikely to cause any problems in school. It is usually something which is likely to be outgrown, unless it is due to untreated dental problems. On the other hand, if a child persists in pushing the tongue right out while saying S, this may eventually cause the front teeth to protrude.
Difficulties in learning to read may occur if many sounds are not being pronounced, or if the speech is so disordered that the child is completely unintelligible. Severe speech problems may, in fact, indicate that the child is having other learning difficulties as well.
If your child is under six, and if the word ‘S’ the only sound being made incorrectly, then no treatment is likely to be needed if S is mispronounced, it is either as a ‘th’, which is an immature form, or as a ‘sh’, in which the tongue is against the roof of the mouth and air escapes between the side and back teeth.
Both forms of mispronunciation are usually easily treated, but the second type, which is called a ‘lateral S’, may take longer to change. This is because it is usually produced by children who are using it instead of S, and the habit is well established; whereas children making the ‘th’ sound don’t have to ‘unlearn’ wrong type of S before they start learning to make it properly.
If you are worried about your child speech, it is advisable to visit a speech therapist (your doctor will advise you on how to arrange this), if only for reassurance. The therapist will ensure that the child’s speech is developing normally and encourage any missing sounds to produced. There is no single plan of treatment for lisping. Each program of speech therapy is specially devised for the individual to be treated.
Do’s and Don’ts of Lisping.
The things to do’s and don’ts to prevent your child from lisping are:
- Go to a speech therapist if your child cannot say S correctly by the age of six.
- Speak slowly, so that S can be heard clearly by your child.
- Split up S from the rest of a word if necessary e.g. s—chool, by making the S longer. When imitating, most children automatically make the S shorter .
- Make a game, for a few minutes every day, of listening for S, perhaps while you read a story.
- Go to a speech therapist if you are in any way worried about your child’s speech.
- Worry if S or R seem to lag behind other sounds in speech development. This is normal.
- Expect S to appear suddenly in words. S followed by a vowel is sooner than S followed by a consonant.
- Speak too quickly for the child to hear the individual sounds in your speech.
- Always be correcting the child’s speech—this will make him lose confidence in speaking. Save ten minutes a day for S games.
- Get cross and make your child feel he or she is doing something naughty if he or she cannot say S. This can lead to a stammer.
Frequently Asked Questions.
1. Why does a lisp seem a more common problem than other sounds being said wrongly?
S and R are difficult to say as the tongue movements needed for these sounds demand very good muscular control. It takes a while for this to develop in a young child.
2. Why can my four-year-old say S in words like ‘Sue’. But leaves it off in other words like ‘Spoon’, which she says as ‘Poon’?
This is quite normal. It is harder to say S when it is followed by a consonant than when it is followed by a vowel.
3. My son has just lost his two top front baby teeth, and has started lisping. Are the two things connected?
Yes. The reason is that S is made with the top and bottom front teeth together. When your son’s second teeth grow down, he will say S normally again. However, you should also keep in mind the do’s and don’ts of Lisping mentioned above.
4. A friend of mine noticed my child sucking his thumb. She said that I should stop him or he would lisp for the rest of his life. Was she right?
Thumb sucking could cause your son’s front teeth to stick out, and a lisp may occur if the top and bottom front teeth don’t meet. Speaking with his thumb in his mouth could make your son say ‘sh’ for S sounds. Because air is coming out from between the side teeth instead of the front teeth. However, these problems occur with older children who persist in thumb sucking. Most young children grow out of the habit before it matters.
5. Since his new brother was born, our seven-year-old has started lisping. Could this lisp become a habit?
Your older child is probably a little jealous of the attention you give the new baby. Make a fuss of him, praise him and involve him in looking after the baby, and his lisp should disappear.
A lisp may seem attractive in a tiny child, but if this occur for prolong period, it can turn into a speech problem. Luckily, speech therapy can work wonders in correcting pronunciation difficulties. However, you should also keep in mind the above mentioned do’s and don’ts of Lisping.
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- Freaktofit, https://freaktofit.com/
Experienced in the field of nutrition, health, fitness, and more. She earned Master Degree from National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad and currently serving in the Eastern branch of ICMR. View author’s certificates.