A lisp is the distortion of the “S” or sometimes “Z” sound. Lisps can be lateral or frontal. A frontal lisp or anterior lisp, is more common and is what most people assume to be the definition of a lisp. It is created by “dentalizing” the sound. That basically means a lisp occurs when the “S” sound is created by placing the tongue-tip in between the upper and lower teeth rather than on the alveolar ridge (the roof of the mouth right behind the teeth). The result is a sound indistinguishable from the “TH” (Aunt Thally thaw a thnake in the grath.)
On a child, a lisp can be cute. On an adult it can be… well….distracting, for the listener that is. For the speaker, it is most likely embarrassing and the cause of reduced speaking confidence. It is a common belief that there is a “sensitive” time to modify bad speaking habits, such as a lisp, and there is no denying that it is more difficult to unlearn habitual behavior as an adult; but it can be done. It just takes a little more conscious effort and the help of a professional. As a speech language pathologist, I correct the lisps of children all the time.. It can be made fun for school-aged children by playing games like “Make The Snake” or “Smile Sounds”. They begin to produce it correctly given visual, verbal, and tactile cues for single words. Single words expand into sentences. Then the cues are faded and they have made correct production of the “S” sound habitual.
Speech therapy for adult articulation requires a little more work. Although, motivation to succeed is usually high given that they sought treatment for themselves. To extinguish the lisp of an adult, correct tongue placement is the easiest part- making the sound habitual is the greatest challenge. This requires heightened self-awareness and on-line correction. At first, the speech therapist may need to identify the sound errors during longer speaking tasks even during recorded playback. After some time (and a lot of practice! this is where the motivation comes in handy) the individual will begin to identify and self-correct the lisp as they recite written work and give short speeches. Finally, the lisp will be diminished and a beautiful, clear, “S” sound will take its place.
If you’re a parent, I highly recommend seeking speech therapy for your child who is lisping as soon as they are at an age where they are able to imitate and consciously work on a specific task (usually around 4 or 5 years).
Adults-it’s not too late! Clear speech is an asset. Lisps are distracting. It takes away from the message you are trying to convey when the listener is focusing on how you’re making sounds rather than what you are actually saying. Contact a speech therapist and regain your confidence.
Through The Years Speech Therapy works on lisping and other articulation disorders.