What Is a Lisp: Its Types, Treatment, and Therapy

When it comes to communication, we rely on our ability to speak in order to convey our thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, speech impediments such as lisps can cause difficulty in expressing ourselves clearly. A lisp is a type of speech disorder where the speaker’s articulation of certain letters is affected.

In this article, you will know more about...

  • the 4 main types of lisps,
  • their causes and treatments, and
  • the role of a speech therapist in helping those with lisps.
Let’s dive in.
Types of Lisps Speech Disorders

Definition and Different Types of Lisps

Lisping is a type of speech disorder where the speaker’s articulation of certain letters, such as “s” and “z”, is affected. It can range from mild to severe and can sound like a “th” sound instead of an “s” sound.
There are four common types of lisps:

1. Interdental Lisp or Frontal Lisp
An interdental lisp occurs when the tongue protrudes between the front teeth while speaking, resulting in a whistling sound when making certain sounds. It is most common in children, but can affect adults as well.
Although the exact causes of this condition are unknown, it is believed to be due to genetics or anatomical differences in the mouth and tongue. Additionally, some medical conditions can also lead to an interdental lisp, such as cleft palate or jaw misalignment.
Environmental factors can also play a role in developing an interdental lisp. For example, if a child finds themselves surrounded by peers who have similar speech patterns, they may acquire those patterns and start producing them in their own speech. Other environmental influences include hearing loss or exposure to foreign languages with different sounds than what is typically used in one’s native language.

2. Dentalized Lisp
A dental lisp occurs when the tongue touches the front teeth when pronouncing the “s” and “z” sounds, resulting in a slushy or distorted sound. Instead of making these sounds in the back of the mouth, they are often articulated further forward in the mouth, creating a lisping sound. This type of lisp can be caused by a combination of genetics, language development issues, and physical anatomical differences. Those affected by this disorder may also find it difficult to produce proper lip closure during speech.
Genetics may play a role in the development of this type of lisp due to anatomical differences in the mouth, such as a small tongue or underdeveloped jaw muscles. Additionally, language development issues during childhood can also have an impact on pronunciation. For instance, if a child does not receive sufficient exposure to certain sounds during early development, they may find it difficult to master their production later on.
Another possible cause for a dentalized lisp is poor oral motor control. This means that someone might have difficulty coordinating their facial and tongue muscles when producing speech, resulting in articulation mistakes. Finally, individuals with conditions like cleft palate or cerebral palsy may also be more prone to this type of lisp due to physical limitations in their mouths.

3. Palatal Lisp
A palatal lisp occurs when the middle of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth when pronouncing the “s” and “z” sounds, resulting in a distorted or whistling sound. Instead of producing a proper “s” sound, they produce a “sh” sound instead. This condition can be caused by an anatomical issue like tongue tie or it can be due to incorrect muscle memory and habits.
The causes of a palatal lisp are varied, ranging from anatomical issues to incorrect muscle memory and habits. Anatomical issues can arise when the tongue is too short or thick, or if there is an abnormality in the way it moves. This can interfere with how air passes through the mouth, which then affects how words are formed.
Incorrect muscle memory and habits can also be a cause of a palatal lisp. These occur when incorrect sounds become automatic responses. This type of lisp may be caused by an individual’s environment growing up or due to lack of speech practice and guidance in early childhood development.
Additionally, certain medical conditions such as cerebral palsy may also contribute to the development of a palatal lisp. In children, this type of lisp may also be due to developmental delays that affect their ability to produce correct sounds correctly and consistently.

4. Lateral Lisp
A lateral lisp occurs when air escapes through the sides of the mouth while speaking, causing a slushy or fuzzy sound.
The causes of lateral lisp are not well understood. Some speculate that developmental delays or anatomical differences are to blame. For example, if the jaw muscles are underdeveloped, it may cause an individual to produce a lisp due to difficulties in proper facial coordination during speech.
Additionally, exposure to certain speech patterns from peers or family members can also lead to the development of a lateral lisp. Finally, individuals who suffer from hearing loss or conditions like cleft palate may also be more prone to developing this type of lisp.

Treatment of Different Types of Lisps

Treatment of Different Types of Lisps

If left untreated, lisps can lead to difficulty being understood or feelings of shame associated with speaking. A speech therapist can help those with a lisp learn how to enunciate properly and confidently communicate their thoughts and feelings in public settings.

Treatment should be tailored to the individual’s needs but typically include the following:

    • activities designed to help patients become aware of their problem pronunciations
    • practicing tongue placement, lip rounding, breath control exercises, vocal exercises (e.g. humming or singing), and other activities that focus on building muscle memory for proper pronunciation
    • using technology such as voice-recording apps or computer programs that provide feedback on pronunciation accuracy
    • homework assignments that involve drills or reading aloud passages
    • involving family and friends for support and encouragement to help build confidence

When treating this disorder, it is important to practice frequently in order to strengthen the muscles used for speaking correctly. In addition to traditional therapy approaches, technology has begun to play a larger role in the treatment of lisps. Apps have been developed that allow users to practice speech exercises right at home. For more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct any underlying medical conditions associated with it.

With dedication and perseverance, individuals can learn how to reduce their lisping tendencies and regain control over their speech.

The Role of a Speech Therapist in Treatment

The Role of a Speech Therapist in Treatment

A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) specializes in diagnosing and treating speech and language disorders. Speech therapists work with individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly, to help them overcome their challenges and improve their communication skills.

SLPs begin with a thorough assessment of the patient’s symptoms to determine the causes and course of action. Through personalized treatment plans tailored for each patient’s needs and continual support throughout the therapy process, SLPs can make a significant difference for those seeking help with their language abilities.

The same is true with the treatment of different types of lisps. With thorough attention from a qualified professional combined with the patient’s dedication and continual practice outside of therapy sessions, it is possible to reduce symptoms and regain control over one’s communication abilities.

Accurate production of speech is essential for clear and effective communication. Proper placement and positioning of the tongue, lips, and jaw are key to achieving the correct production.

If you or anyone you know are worried about symptoms of lisping, get in touch with one of our Speech-Language Pathologists to determine if speech therapy is needed.

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Lauren Templeton - Apheleia Speech Therapy
Lauren Templeton

Owner & Speech-Language Pathologist

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