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What is a lisp? How to treat lisping?

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Speech Therapist with a child having lisp

Lisping is a condition that occurs where the child faces difficulty in the proper placement of the tongue, ultimately producing certain sounds incorrectly. True lisping is when a person has trouble pronouncing the 's' and 'z' sound due to inaccurate tongue placement. Sometimes people can lisp on 'sh', 'ch', and 'j' sounds as well, however, it is less common. 

Lisping is very common, as many as 23% of the patients speech therapists see struggle with lisping disorders of varying levels of severity.

Why do people lisp?

Lisping falls under functional speech impediment, which means that the person it majorly depends on motor speech sound production. To put it simply, the child faces difficulty in learning how to pronounce specific phonetics.

A few common causes of lisping are:

  1. The most common and very basic cause is that the child learns to pronounce the sound incorrectly. The more times a child pronounces a sound in an incorrect way, the tongue muscles get adapted to pronounce the sound in an incorrect manner. The child can relearn how to pronounce the sound correctly with the help of a speech-language pathologist.

  2. There can be an issue with jaw alignment.

  3. Tongue tie, also known as ankyloglossia. The tongue is attached to the base of the mouth with a skin fold, known as the frenulum. Sometimes the frenulum can be too short resulting in restricted movement of the tongue, thereby resulting in lisping.

  4. Some studies have indicated that recurrent ear infections can also lead to lisping in a child.

Different types of lisps

Lisping is often classified under 4 types:

  • Frontal lisp- in this type of lisp the child pushes the tongue too far forward, between the teeth. They may say 'thoup' instead of 'soup', or 'thoo' instead of 'zoo'. It is the most common type of lisp among toddlers.

  • Lateral lisp- in this type of lisp, the air slips out from the sides of the tongue resulting in a wet and slushy sound. For instance, remember how Sylvester the cat from looney tunes talks, it sounds as if the child has too much saliva in their mouth.

  • Palatal lisp- the child ends end up touching the back portion of the tongue on the soft palate (the roof of the mouth). This kind of lisp is quite rare.

  • Dental lisp- as the name suggests, it is related to teeth. It is often due to misaligned teeth, the individual ends up pushing their tongue on the back of the front teeth. It is different from the Frontal lisp as in the frontal lisp a child pushes the tongue between the teeth. However, presentation-wise both frontal and dental lisp can be similar. It is often distinguished when a speech therapist evaluates the child.

Is lisping considered a disorder?

Being such a common problem, the thought of lisping being a disorder and a lifetime condition often bothers parents. Lisping falls under the category of articulation disorder. People with articulation disorder often have difficulty with the motor function of the tongue, lips, palate, teeth, lungs, and respiratory muscles leading to difficulty producing certain sounds. In such cases as a child grows they often start avoiding the sounds they mispronounce.

Please contact a speech-language pathologist if you notice your child lisping and having difficulty overcoming it.

Treatment of lisping

Fortunately, almost all of the individuals who present with lisping can be treated with the help of speech therapy. Whether to wait or to start the treatment for lisping depends on the type of lisp. Therefore a speech therapist first evaluates the condition of the child by conversing with them and noticing how they produce the incorrect sound, in order to rule out the type of lisp the child is presenting with. The standard age to start the therapy of various kinds of lisps is-

Frontal Lisp: 7-8 years old

Lateral Lisp: 4 ½ years old

Palatal Lisp: 3-4 years old

Dental Lisp: 4 ½ years old

Lateral and Palatal lisps are usually not developmental and the child probably won't grow out of them. Hence in these types of lisps, it is suggestive to start the therapy immediately.

First, the SLP tries explaining to the child the tongue placement for the production of the S sound. The aim is to correct one sound at a time and at a particular level (isolation, words, phrases, and sentences). A speech-language pathologist can use aids like mirrors, toys, or picture cards to help the child get a better idea regarding the tongue placement. Some children learn quickly whereas, others may require extra time and practice, once the child learns the isolated sound, the focus then shifts to learning the syllables. Followed by words, phrases, and sentences as the child feels comfortable using the sound at each level.

It is just a gist of the role of a speech therapist. We at Sounderic along with working with the child, also discuss with you the progress of the child and provide you with a few worksheets and suggest exercises you can perform at home to hasten the development of your child.

When a child presents with a tongue tie, the doctor may suggest a simple procedure that can be conducted in his clinic. It involves snipping the frenulum and reducing the tension on the tongue and allowing free movement.

Sounderic provides online speech therapy sessions for children with various communication disorders. We would love to help you. Get in touch with us on WhatsApp at +919644466635 or schedule a consultation with us at

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