I evaluate a half dozen kids a week who have parents that tell me their child has a lisp. A “lisp” is the common term for incorrect tongue placement when the /s/, /z/, /ch/, and /sh/ sounds are produced in words. If only it were that simple….
When someone has difficulty with these sounds, it is a result of an incorrect swallow pattern. Babies are born to push their tongue forward to express milk and swallow. The pattern is usually changed to a retracted swallow around 9-12 months when the child begins to drink from a cup. However, the creation of sippy cups, using the bottle too long, and extended use of a pacifier has inhibited the swallow pattern correction and left the child with a tongue thrust swallow pattern.
Then, as the toddler begins to learn speech and language sounds, the tongue placement is too far forward (between his teeth), producing the lisp. As the child ages, this problem becomes more and more difficult to correct.
What are some things you can do now?
First, remove all pacifiers, bottles, and sippy cups. The longer you wait to take them away, the more traumatic it will be for your child. Yes, I know the carpet is expensive to replace. Braces are expensive, too and will be needed if this tongue thrust is not corrected- so toss the sippy cups! Instead, look at the Wow Cups or a cup with a straw. The best (and cheapest) solution is the regular cup. Keep it at the table. When the child is thirsty, have him come to the table and take a drink.
Second, take a bendy straw and trim the first part of the straw in half. Next, have the child drink through the straw through his front teeth. Do not let the straw lay on the tongue. It needs to be in front of the teeth. As the child can do this, graduate to thicker liquids (applesauce, yogurt). The child’s tongue will have to retract to pull the liquid up. This is correcting the reverse swallow.
These methods, along with diligent speech therapy sessions and home programming, will improve the speech and swallowing problems.
And as always, keep it fun!