Lisps – not always just about saying “s”!

Lisps - more than just saying "s"!
More than just saying “s”! Some lisps do not respond to traditional therapies, and may be the result of an underlying issue that need to be addressed.

If you ask any member of the public what a Speech Pathologist does, they will most likely tell you that we “fix lisps.” So what’s the deal with lisps? What are they? Why do they happen? I sat down with my friend and colleague Zohara (Speech Pathologist and Orofacial Myologist) to talk all things lisps, and why it’s not always just about saying “s”.

Romina: You are an Orofacial Myologist. Can you summarise your role for people who’ve not heard of it before?

Zohara: Orofacial Myologists specialise in identifying and treating muscle-related disorders of the mouth and face. We are typically referred clients who may be experiencing orthodontic relapse or “tongue thrust” by their orthodontist or dentist, people with oral habits, or children who have been through years of speech therapy without much progress. Our role is to re-educate the disordered patterns of the muscles and surrounding structures to achieve nasal breathing, tongue-to-palate rest, closed mouth and lip resting positions.

What are the main causes of a lisp?

Lisps are typically defined as an “Articulation Disorder of Unknown Cause”. Most traditional therapy will use ‘articulation therapy’ to treat lisps. However, there are some lisps that do not respond to traditional therapy. It’s important to recognise that the lisp is often a symptom of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed first. These might include airway obstruction (like large tonsils), narrow palate, malocclusions (jaw/teeth distortions), oral habits (like thumb/finger sucking, or extended dummy use, or tongue tie).

What are the biggest impacts of lisps for children and adults?

Besides the impact of potential underlying causes, lisps can impact speech clarity for listeners. They can also impact self esteem and self confidence in some cases, due to the negative societal connotations that come with lisps, or even from teasing at school.

What is your biggest piece of advice for parents of babies and toddlers? 

A clear airway is key for healthy, functioning humans! Watch your child for symptoms of potential airway disturbances, when they are not sick, such as:

  • Snoring
  • Open mouth while awake and asleep
  • Heavy breathing
  • Teeth clenching or grinding while awake and/or asleep
  • Restless sleeping and/or thrashing through the night
  • Sweating while asleep
  • Wetting the bed although they are toilet trained
  • Over-extension of the head while asleep (imagine the bottom of their head nearly touching the tops of their shoulder blade)
  • Dark rings under the eyes

What is your biggest piece of advice for parents of preschoolers?

Watch for the same symptoms above and seek advice from an Orofacial Myologist or a Speech Pathologist with experience and understanding of the impacts of these oral habits on childrens’ development. Remember – a lisp is not always just about saying “s”!

What are your favourite toys/games to use in therapy?

I love using a dragon hand puppet to gain the trust of shy or insecure children. I communicate through the puppet and find children respond really well to him. The magic of the child’s imagination kicks in, and the stage is set for children to develop and flourish. To address oral habits such as thumb sucking, I love to use ‘Monkey Dentist’ which is a game where the child can make the teeth out of Play Doh and you can implant the teeth into the monkey’s mouth, distorting the teeth to show the effects of thumb sucking. We can explore lots of these ideas with a game like this.

Thank you, Zohara, for sharing your knowledge with us! If you or your child has a lisp, or if you’re concerned about any of the other things Zohara addressed in this post, please give us a call on 0451 197 411 to have an obligation-free chat.