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  • Writer's pictureOnjalique Taylor

Say It Don't Spray It! Handling That Slushy Lisp

When you think of a lisp, you may think of the popular Looney Tunes characters, Daffy Duck or Sylvester the Cat, who frequently spit when they speak. Slushy-like speech is a common characteristic of a lisp. Excessive saliva tends to sit under the tongue and is often sprayed during speech production. It regularly affects “s” and “z.” These sounds are frequently substituted with other sounds resulting in distorted conversational speech. Although this is often the case, a lisp can be more complicated and affect other sounds as well. 

Speech - language pathologists, dentists and doctors have identified four major forms of lisp impediments: frontal, lateral, palatal, & dental. In most cases, it is outgrown as children; however, some persist past childhood into adulthood. If it persists past age 7, seek professional assistance from a speech-language pathologist, dentist, and/or primary care physician. The longer you wait to treat, the harder they are to correct.  

  • Frontal lisp: when the tongue placement is protruded forward creating a "th' sound where the /s/ and /z/ sound should be.

  • Lateral lisp: when the tongue placement is retracted back causing air to escape over the sides of the tongue creating slushy-like sound for /s/ and /z/ sounds.

  • Palatal lisp: when the tongue contacts the soft palate causing air to be blocked, making it difficult to produce /s/ or /z/ sounds.

  • Dental lisp: when the tongue tip makes contact with the front teeth, causing air to be blocked, making it difficult to produce /s/ or /z/ sounds.

Cause: A lisp is typically caused by incorrect tongue placements in the mouth, which in turn obstructs airflow from the inside of the mouth, causing the distortion of words and syllables. It can also be caused by one's dental structure (i.e. large spaces/gaps between teeth). It can also be attributed to individuals who are mouth breathers, where the mouth is open and the tongue lies flat, causing tongue protrusion and excessive saliva build up. 

Treatment: Articulation and oral motor therapy are types of intervention provided by a speech-language pathologist. The goal of articulation therapy is to help a child produce challenging sounds to achieve age appropriate speech. Oral motor therapy focuses on strengthening the muscles of the lips, tongue and jaw, while improving coordination and flexibility. 

What the caregiver can do:

  1. Encourage breathing through their nose. If the child is a mouth breather, during sleep or at rest refer to an ENT to rule out any existing allergy or sinus problems, as open-mouth breathing causes the tongue to lie flat, protrude forward and causes saliva build-up under the tongue.

  2. Do your best to eliminate thumb/finger-sucking, as it can contribute to a lisp.

  3. Drink with straws. This kind of sucking motion promotes good oral-motor strength.

  4. Model the appropriate sounds and over-exaggerate the oral placements, then encourage imitation.

  5. Use a mirror and practice keeping the teeth together while the child produces /s/. This will provide a visual model of correct oral placement.

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