Why Children Lisp

Lisping has its background in infancy but doesn’t need to continue through childhood into adulthood.

There are different types of lisp. This brief post addresses the common ‘frontal lisp’.

What is a Frontal Lisp?

A frontal lisp is when a child saysth’ instead of ‘s’

As an example, “sit on a seat” becomes “thit on a theat

What is happening to create this lisping sound?

During speech, the tongue moves at an incredibly high speed around our mouths into various positions, therefore enabling articulation of the sequence and variety of required sounds.

Articulation of each different sound requires the tongue to be in an exact position.

  • The natural positions for the tongue tip when creating the ‘s’ sound is either sitting up behind the front teeth or down behind the bottom teeth.
  • The natural position for the tongue tip when creating the “th” sound is pushing forward between the teeth.

A frontal lisp will occur when the tongue mistakenly pushes forward between the teeth as the child attempts to create the “s” sound rather than sitting behind the top or bottom teeth.

Often, an interruption during infancy to the ideal development of a child’s swallow pattern, lies behind the tongue being unable to assume the correct position for the required sound.

Immature and Mature Swallow Patterns

When a baby initially suckles, their tongue pushes forward during swallowing. As the infant eats more solid foods, they will ideally develop a mature swallow pattern where their tongue rests up against the roof of their mouth and moves up and back as they swallow.

This mature swallow pattern facilitates the tongue easily reaching the roof of the mouth and thus enables the clear articulation of the ‘s’ sound when required.

Retention of the immature swallow pattern, where the tongue moves forward during swallowing, can be linked to extended dummy sucking or thumb sucking.

This extended suckling and resultant lisping can have a long term impact on:

  • Dental structures
  • Articulation of many sounds
  • Socialisation – sometimes children with a lisp are bullied
  • Confused reading and spelling of the affected sounds ‘s’ ‘z’

If a child continues to suck their thumb or suck a dummy, the articulation problems are likely to persist.

Speech Pathologists are available and able to provide simple exercises and practical advice which can help you align the child’s appropriate tongue position and minimise these impacts.

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