Lisping is a common term to describe difficulties in pronouncing certain sounds including 's' and 'z'. Many children experience a period of lisping during their speech development so it can be challenging for parents and carers to determine if a child needs speech therapy of will naturally develop more appropriate speech patterns.

Here is how to determine if you should recommend a child for speech therapy.

How old is the child?

Interdental lisping is common until a child is 4-5 years old, where as 's' or 'z' is pronounced as a 'th'. If a child is still lisping past the age if 8 this may indicate a more severe lisp, which could benefit from a course of speech therapy.

What is the style of lisping?

Normal patterns of lisping involve the tongue being protruded through the front teeth or touch the front teeth with the touch (known as interdental, or dental lisps). Lisps where there is air escaping around the tongue are less developmentally appropriate in young children, and can indicate other issues requiring attention.

Is there a family history of lisping?

In families where there is a family history of lisping, it is less likely that the lisp will naturally resolve over time. The exact mechanism behind lisping is not fully understood but a combination of genetic factors and observed speech patterns is thought to exacerbate and maintain lisps in family environments where lisping is common if speech therapy is not maintained.

Is the lisping causing the child distress?

If a child is under pressure socially due to their lisp, they can often find it hard to speak up in class and participate socially. Equally if a lisp is so severe as to impact on the intelligibility of speech, it can lead to distress and behavioural issues if a child is frustrated that they cannot be understood. 

Along with appropriate social counselling for their peers, speech therapy can be useful in increasing the confidence of a child with a lisp in this circumstance.

If you are concerned with a lisp in a child that you care for, obtaining a speech assessment by a speech pathologist can be a sensible first step in determining if speech therapy would be a useful adjunct to their child care. In many case the assessment is claimable on private health insurance or via health plan where a child does have a speech issue. If you want to know more and if you need professional help, contact a company such as communiKIDS to learn more.