Lisping….. not just a speech problem!

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!

How can I help my child’s speech and language develop at home?

Parents always ask me what they can do at home to facilitate language development.  Below are some ways to foster speech and language development with your child at home.  Keep in mind, the most important part is to make it fun!

1) Choices.  One of the first things you can do is to incorporate choices into your daily routine.  By doing this, you reduce the number of yes/no questions you ask and help your child feel the power of expressing his wants, thereby decreasing frustration.

2) Picture Language.  Research shows that use of pictures with children with communication difficulties assists with both understanding and expression.  Make simple communication displays with photos and point to each choice and label.  Look at your child and wait for a response.

3) Routines and Directions.  Make pictures schedules for daily routines.  Review the routine and point to each picture and label.  Say “all done” when the routine is complete.  This works especially well with difficult times of day, like bedtime.

4)  Learning vocabulary- Take photos of family, friends, pets, clothing, and household items.  Create displays with photos by category.

5) Increasing Attention to Books.  Share books everyday.  The story does not matter.  Don’t read the story.  Instead, teach nouns, action words, he/she.  Make story time inter-active.  Ask questions.  If the child does not know the answer, give the answer.  Use the same books each night in a routine until the child can identify and label pictures.

6) Place preferred items out of reach so that your child will be obligated to use words, signs, or pictures to request what he wants.

7) Interrupt familiar routines to ask what happens next.

8)  Sabotage, be silly.  Say something like, “I am going to put pants on my head” as you put his pants on your head.  Wait for your child’s response.  Expand his response.

9) Time delay.  With a needed or preferred item present, look at the item and and your child expectantly for up to 15 seconds and wait.  Too often as parents we meet our child’s needs before they even have an opportunity to verbally communicate.  Don’t be so accommodating!