Lisp in children: causes and treatment

Lisping (sigmatism) is a phonation disorder of sibilants. This form of speech disorder is usually easy to treat in children. The best way to do this is to put your child in the expert hands of a speech therapist. He clarifies where the lisp is coming from and initiates therapy.

Lisp in children and its causes

When children are learning to speak, lisp is quite common. Finally, the S, Sh, and Z sounds are difficult sounds for your little one to form. For most, the lisp goes away on its own as they get older. If your child continues to lisp, the causes can be varied:

  • Teeth: If your child has a so-called open bite and large gaps between teeth, it can have difficulty forming the “S” sound.
  • Hearing : Hearing disorders , for example caused by an otitis media or congenital, can cause the child to form sounds incorrectly.
  • Palate and tongue: If the tongue or palate is damaged, for example by an accident, or if there are deformities, children cannot pronounce the “S” sound correctly.
  • Motor skills: It is important for the formation of different sounds that the tongue muscles are well developed. Notice if your little one’s mouth is constantly open or if their tongue is lolling in a kind of resting position. Both are signs of poor oral motor skills.
  • Perception: With an auditory perceptual disorder, your child cannot distinguish between important sounds and unimportant ones. It then has difficulty differentiating sounds, although hearing works perfectly.
  • Genetics: Although linguists rule out inheritance, familial accumulations have been observed in lisping.
  • If the siblings or playmates have language problems, it can happen through imitation that your child adopts them.
  • Physical causes: If children want to arouse the protective instinct of adults, they can start to lisp. Exhaustion and tiredness also lead to this. When this happens, muscle tension in the mouth and control of the tongue and palate decrease.

This is how lisp is treated

If you talk to the pediatrician about the fact that your child is constantly lisping, they will write you out for a referral to a speech therapist. You can also contact a speech therapist directly. However, it is better to discuss this in advance with the responsible health insurance company regarding the assumption of costs.

By the age of four, many children are still learning to pronounce the “S” sound correctly. Until then, you should wait and see, as it is often considered normal for children to lisp.

However, if you notice that the lisp persists after the age of five, you should not wait too long for your child to be treated. Incorrect speaking patterns can become ingrained over time, making them difficult to correct. In addition, the therapy lasts much longer.

There are speech therapists who only recommend starting therapy from the age of seven, as soon as the change of teeth in the central incisors is over. However, there is nothing to be said against therapy during the change of teeth. 

The goals of therapy with a speech therapist are:

  • training of oral motor skills,
  • Tongue and mouth mobility training
  • Training of auditory perception.
  • For this purpose, the “S” sound is learned from scratch or worked out from a neighboring sound.
  • Sometimes the speech therapist carries out exercises with a tool, the spatula. It helps the tongue to form properly or puts it in a whistling position.
  • In addition to exercises for tongue mobility, some children also need to practice swallowing properly. 
  • The costs for the treatment are covered by the statutory health insurance if the pediatrician has referred you.
  • Initially, 10 therapy sessions of 45 minutes each are approved.
  • The maximum number of therapy hours is 60. The speech therapist must send the health insurance company a brief report for further treatment. In the case of serious disturbances (e.g. due to accidents or disabilities), longer treatment is also approved.

Exercises for training at home

You can support and promote the speech therapy treatment with exercises that you do at home with your child. You can buy suitable exercise books in storesadvertisement. A popular exercise is the well known and loved tongue twisters. These are good for practicing the different “S” sounds:

  • Susi, say sour sauce!
  • Fischer’s Fritz fishes fresh fish, fresh fish fishes Fischer’s Fritz.
  • Donkeys don’t eat nettles. Donkeys don’t eat nettles!
  • Seven snow shovelers shovel seven shovels of snow.
  • Snails startle when they lick snails because, to the dismay of many snails, snails taste quite frightening.
  • If I know what you know and you know what I know,
    then I know what you know and you know what I know.
  • The children’s song “Summ, summ, summ” by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben has also proven itself.

The following exercises strengthen the mouth and tongue muscles. You can incorporate them into your everyday life in an entertaining and playful way and, at the same time, strengthen your mouth and tongue muscles.

  • Drinking through a straw with various drinks: for example thick liquids such as drinking yoghurt or smoothies. Both are harder to suck up than thin liquids.
  • Lip exercises, such as air kissing, inward lip curling, and speaking as “toothless grandma.”
  • Tongue exercises, such as clicking your tongue, nibbling something sweet off your upper lip, sucking a lollipop with just the tip of your tongue, or exploring your mouth with your tongue (feeling every single tooth, sticking your tongue out, etc.)

In addition to the gymnastic exercises, you should also train the mouth muscles and exhalation with your child. If your child exhales correctly, it can form the “S” sound correctly.

  • Practice spitting out cherry pits or something similar as far as you can.
  • Blows soap bubbles through the air.
  • Blow cotton balls back and forth on the table. Then take a tennis ball to make it harder to blow.
  • Take a piece of paper and blast it against the wall and try to keep it there by blowing on it.

If you exercise or train for ten minutes a day, that’s enough. Anything beyond that will cause your child to lose interest or fun in the exercises. The exercises can also be strenuous. 

When to the doctor if the child lisps?

In the first four years of life, you shouldn’t worry too much if your child lisps. It probably hasn’t learned how to properly form the “S” sounds yet. These sounds are difficult to learn and your child may be one of those who only later masters this language acquisition.

If your child lisps while learning to speak, speech therapists refer to this as a “physiological lisp”. You can try to correct this by speaking clearly yourself at a reasonable volume. You are also welcome to do the exercises described above. Usually the lisp goes away on its own.

However, you should see your pediatrician by the age of five at the latest if your child is still lisping.

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