Correcting a Frontal Lisp

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A friend of mine recently asked me to listen to her little boy’s speech because she was concerned about him having a frontal lisp. His lisp never bothered her until someone outside of their family commented on “how cute” his little lisp was!

Any mom would be less than thrilled to hear someone else noticed that their child sounded differently – even if the difference was cute! His mom and I met him briefly outside of his classroom where I got to see and hear him speak. He did have a mild frontal lisp. Lisping is the habitual protrusion of the tongue between the upper and lower teeth when making the /s/ and /z/ sounds.  This means he was producing a sound similar to the /th/ sound in place of the /s/ and /z/ sounds.
A “frontal lisp” may also be called an “inter-dental lisp.” For some children, the frontal lisp is developmental until around age 4 or 4 ½. If the lisp does not go away on its own by then, it is a good idea to seek out a speech-language pathologist’s assistance. For other kids, it does go away on its own by age 4 – 4 ½ and is not a concern any longer.
The best thing to do is to see what your SLP says about your child’s speech production, and if it is recommended, begin to correct it.  This habit gets harder and harder to break the longer it is left untreated. Ideally, if your child is ready and you as the parent are concerned, working on correcting the sound at 4 ½ is a great idea.

What Does a Frontal Lisp Sound Like?

 
Usually kids who are demonstrating a frontal lisp will substitute a sound close to the voiceless /th/ for the /s/. You may hear words that sound like this:

Lisp on the /s/ sound at the beginning of a word:  “Saw” sounds like ” thaw”
Lisp on the /s/ sound in the middle of a word:  “Grasshopper” sounds like  “grathhopper”
Lisp on the /s/ sound at the end of a word:  “Class” sounds like “clath”

A child who lisps when saying the /z/ sound substitutes a sound similar to a voiced /th/; as in the word “mother”.

Lisp on the /z/ sound at the beginning of a word: “Zoo” sounds like  “thoo”
Lisp on the /z/ sound in the middle of a word:  “Busy” sounds like “bithey”
Lisp on the /z/ sound at the end of a word:  “Days” sounds like “dathe”

 

What type of Speech Disorder is a Frontal Lisp? Is There Something Wrong With My Child’s Mouth?

 
A frontal lisp is referred to as a functional speech disorder. A functional speech disorder simply means that the origin or cause of the speech error pattern is unknown. There is no known structural or related cause that can be blamed for the distortion or error pattern. Some examples of known causes of an articulation or speech sound disorder might be if the child is an obligatory mouth breather (can’t breathe adequately through the nose), has low muscle tone (you may see that the child drools or has an open mouth resting posture), has a cognitive delay, or has a genetic syndrome causing the jaw and facial bones to develop atypically, not allowing for the necessary contact between the child’s articulators (tongue, lips, and jaw). If these are occurring along with a frontal lisp, other more individualized techniques and strategies may need to be applied; however, those types of structurally based speech disorders will not be discussed here. This post is just aimed at discussing the functional speech disorder.

Does a Frontal Lisp Impact my Child’s Speech Intelligibility?

 
If only one or two sounds are distorted by the lisp, then the child’s speech intelligibility may not be affected at all; or be affected very minimally. A frontal lisp can range from mild to severe depending on the amount of forward tongue protrusion. Usually, the child is understood fairly well despite the lisp.
Lisping on the /s/ and /z/ sounds may draw unwanted attention to the child’s speech because it sounds odd and is visually atypical. For example, a severe frontal lisp may be visually distracting as the tongue is moving forward and extending beyond the front teeth.
 

How Do I  Correct the Lisp and Teach a Good /s/ and /z/ Sound?

 
The focus of speech therapy for a frontal lisp is primarily on re-training the tongue to assume a more back posture instead of a more frontal or inter-dental posture. The goal is to achieve a precise sounding /s/ and /z/ by stabilizing both sides of the back of the tongue and directing the tongue tip to stay just behind the upper teeth.  Here is the order of articulation therapy I would follow.  This is a very basic description of what to do.  It is always recommended that you consult your local speech-language pathologist to help with correct diagnosis and treatment.

Step 1: Auditory Awareness/Discrimination

 
You want to first begin with auditory discrimination activities in order to bring awareness to the difference between the /s/ and /z/ sounds and the /th/ sound they are using. Some kids have been lisping for so long, they really don’t know that it is inaccurate. It all sounds the same to them! So start with some listening activities.
It might look something like this.  Say to your child:
ADULT:     “We are going to learn how to say two very cool sounds! They are the /ssss/ and /zzzz/ sounds. I just want you to watch and listen to me.  You are going to give me a thumbs-up when you see and hear a good ssssssss and a good zzzzzz.  If you hear a funny or slushy sound, give me a thumbs-down!  Got it? Okay, here we go!”

sssssssssssssssssss – how did that sound? Good?

CHILD:  Yeah! (Child gives a thumbs-up)

ADULT:  Right, good listening!  That was a good ssssssssssss sound.  Now, lets see if I can make a good /z/ sound.  Ready?

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz – how did that sound ? Good?

CHILD:  Yeah!  (Thumbs-up)

ADULT:  Wow, great listening.  You were right.  Those were both good ssssss and zzzzzz sounds.
Now go ahead and say the following words – be sure to mix it up so that the first word isn’t always the correct production. You don’t want them to anticipate a pattern and respond based on that! The goal is listening and discrimination of the difference between a correct /s/ and /z/ and an incorrect /th/ substitution.

“Recess” – (child listens and gives a thumbs up)
“Retheth” – (child listens and gives a thumbs down)
“Bicycle” – (child listens and gives a thumbs up)
“Bithicle” – (child listens and gives a thumbs down)
Etc.

Step 2: Eliciting the Correct Tongue Position

 
(I use a traditional articulation therapy approach for working on the /s/ and /z/ sounds and correcting a lisp)

1. Let’s Play Copy Cat!!

 
See if your child can imitate or copy you as you demonstrate how to make a correct /s/ and /z/ sound with your teeth closed and your tongue behind the teeth. They may be able to copy you and that would make it much easier to then move to the next level of difficulty…the /s/ and /z/ sounds in syllables.
If your child can’t imitate you, get a mirror and use visual feedback to help them direct their tongue tip just behind the upper teeth. Use verbal cues to explain where the tongue tip goes. You can even use a popsicle stick, or tongue depressor if you have one, to lightly tap the tongue tip and then tap just behind the upper teeth and have your child make those two touch.
Verbal cues I like to use for /s/ are:
“the /s/ is the hissing snake sound”
“it’s a sharp /ssss/ sound!”
“smile and keep your teeth closed and say /sssss/!”

Verbal cues I like to use for /z/ are:
“the /zzzz/ sound is the noisy brother of /s/”
“your tongue is in the same spot for /ssss/ but you just turn on your motor…/zzzz/”

 

 

2. Syllables!!

 
Once the child is able to say an accurate /s/ and /z/ sound at least 20 times in a row by itself and without too many reminders for tongue placement, I move onto silly syllables.
This just means you have them say their “good /ssss/ and good /zzzz/ sounds with vowels. I begin with the short vowels and then use the long vowels. I will go through all positions. Usually I start with broken syllables (s + a) and then move to blended syllables (sa).

/s/ + a

/z/ + a

a + /s/

a + /z/

a + /s/ + a

a + /z/ + a

3. Words!!

 
Once the child is able to produce the /s/ and /z/ in blended syllables, I move onto words. There are some printable /s/ and /z/ worksheets you can download and use to practice at this level! These are great for kids and are colorful and show both the picture for pre-readers and the word for kids who want to read also.
Make sure you practice the /s/ and /z/ sounds in the beginning, middle, and end of words. Here are some examples:

beginning:               some  –   zipper
middle:                     missing  –    business
end:                            class   –   close
 

 

4. Sentences!!

 

 
The next level I would target is sentences. Use all those words you practiced, and new ones too, in short phrases and then longer sentences!
 

 

5. Reading!!

 
If the child can read, I like to have them practice using their good /s/ and /z/ in reading! Just about any book will do!
 

 

6. Conversation!!

 
I have my students tell me a story about something that happened and I tell them I’m going to listen for their good /s/ and /z/ sounds! They love sharing stories.   As you do this at various times during the day (short conversations are best) producing their new /s/ and /z/ sounds should become more and more natural and automatic.  The final stage would be when they can maintain the correct production of /s/ and /z/ with very minimal errors.  They should be able to produce their /s/ and /z/ sounds effortlessly during all spontaneous speech!
 

 

Tip for Parents:


Research shows that a very effective tool in encouraging correct sound production is the “re-cast.” This technique is so simple and is highly effective! Here is how it works!
When your child says, “I thaw that thame one yethterday!” you would respond by saying,
“ Really, you SAW that SAME one yeSterday??” As you repeat their sentence, you are providing a correct model of the sounds that were in error while just slightly emphasizing the correct way to say the /s/ or /z/ sound. You are not demanding that the child repeat every sentence and word he distorts.

Please let me know how your home therapy is going and if you have any questions!

More great resources on correcting a lisp:

 

 

Heather G.
M.S.CCC-SLP

41 Responses to “Correcting a Frontal Lisp”

  1. Alexis says:

    Hi Heather,
    I am an SLP, and I have also heard the 4 1/2 age. I was wondering if you remember where you got that number? I feel like I read it on a Caroline Bowen article as well, but can’t find it. Would love if you had a reference for me. Thanks!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Alexis! I thought I found it in my book Eliciting Sounds by Dr. Secord, but I couldn’t find it today! I will site the source when I do find it!
      Thank you!
      Love,
      Heather

    • Heather says:

      Sources sited from SLPath for developmental age of frontal lisp

      Smit, A. (1993a). Phonologic error distributions in the Iowa-Nebraska articulation norms project: consonant singletons. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 36 (3), 533-547.

      Smit, A. (1993b). Phonologic error distributions in the Iowa-Nebraska articulation norms project: word-initial consonant clusters. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 36 (5), 931-947.

  2. bharat singh malawat says:

    Hi Heather ,
    I m now 20 still having lisp how it can be fixed and till what age it can be cured

  3. Katie says:

    Thanks for the helpful information. You mentioned there are printable pages to practice /s/ and /z/ words. Could you provide a link? I would really appreciate this. Thanks!

  4. […] that speech therapists only work with children with trouble pronouncing certain sounds (such as those with lisps), although that is indeed a common issue. In actuality, speech therapy is a broad field that can […]

  5. Amy says:

    My son has difficulty w s, and z .he learned to stop, but has been compensating with a frontal lisp. He is 7 . Any thoughts, he does receive speech services

    • Heather says:

      I would suggest talking to your treating SLP about it. I’m sure they will be able to advise you better than I can without hearing him. Best wishes!

  6. Zhyar says:

    Hi techer
    Im 18 years old , i have a lisp of saying ‘z’ and ‘s’ , so i ask it can be corrected( fixed) ?

    • Heather says:

      Yes, with a lot of hard work, it can if there are no real structural reasons for the distortion. I would seek out a professional SLP evaluation where you live.
      Thank you so much,
      Heather

  7. Laura P says:

    Hi Heather! Thanks for the information you have provided. We homeschool and my son (who is nearly 8) has a lisp because he knocked out his two front teeth at age 2. His adult teeth only grew into that spot within the past year. My closest friend is actually a speech therapist for her local school district, and she’s offered to help me address it. However things have been busy and she lives 30 minutes away so I really appreciate the steps you have listed here. We will start working on it during our regular homeschool time. (we could obtain speech services through our school district but my friend has been reassuring me it’s not necessary at this point) I’m a little worred though, since he has had it for quite awhile and is getting older. Any thoughts on how difficult it might be to correct it? Is it too late to expect it to go away completely? Thanks for your time.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Laura!
      So glad you have found the blog helpful for your son! I would definitely recommend working on his lisp now. If it is a frontal lisp – those are developmental until age 4. If they are still lisping by age 4 it is a good idea to begin therapy. If it is a lateral lisp – intervention as soon as it is appropriate is recommended! So yes, use the steps I’ve listed and hopefully you can get a head start until your SLP friend can see him! I wish you all the very best! Let me know if you have any questions!
      Heather

  8. Sarah says:

    Hi,
    My son who is 6 says his “s” sound perfectly at the start of a word, but if it is at the end of a word it SOMETIMES sounds like “th”. do you think he needs speech therapy? Otherwise he speaks very well and spoke at a very early age and has a great vocabulary.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Sarah,
      It is a VERY good sign that he says it correctly in the beginning of words. It shows that he CAN articulate the sound – he is just still learning where it goes! Just keep modeling and giving him examples of how to use the /s/. You may also how him how not saying it correctly at the end of a word can change the meaning of the word. Use contrasts to show him this. For example, he may say, “math” but means “mass” or he may say “myth” but mean to say “miss”. See if pointing out the change in meaning helps him be more aware.
      Let me know how it is going.
      Heather

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I have a 4.5 year old who has a lot of trouble with “s” at the end of a word. His tongue proturudes significantly and sounds like “th”. I have tried to have him keep his tongue back while saying “bats” (his favorite word), and when he does the “s” just sounds like “ch” instead of “th”. So basically the mouth position looks ok, but there is too much emphasis on keeping his tongue back. Do you have any suggestions to help correct this?

  10. Molly says:

    I have an 11 year old boy and 8 year old boy that have a lisp. No history on either side of the family. Why do they have this?? Is there any way to correct it or are we too late?

  11. Bridget says:

    Hi Heather,

    You website is awesome! I have private client that presents with a slight asymmetrical lisp during the production of /s/, /z/, /sh/ and /ch/. She is able to produce all of these sounds in all word positions at the structured sentence level. However, the second that she is not being held accountable she begins to asymmetrically lisp at single word level. We use mirrors and the Entire World of /S/ and /Z/ but I feel like I am not seeing any generalization into the unstructured setting. Any suggestions?

  12. Amy says:

    Hi Heather,
    I have a 20 month old who I noticed has a bit of a lisp. It’s only heard with words where the last sound is an ‘s’ sound. However, it is not consistent, sometimes she pronounces the sound correctly when it is at the end and there is no lisp if the sound is in other parts of the word. I have noticed that when she does mispronounce the sound, her tongue is coming out between her front teeth. Do you think this is a developmental type lisp that I should just give time or the start of a habit that I should start working on with her? I don’t want to make a fuss over it for her if nothing needs to be done but also don’t want to let it go and make it harder for her later. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Amy,
      Thank you so much for your question. A frontal lisp is considered “normal” and part of the maturation process of the child’s system. It should go away on its own by 3-4 years old. If it is still very pronounced and noticeable at 4, a speech therapy evaluation is recommended. Right now, you can just model the correct way to say the /s/ so she sees and hears it and but beyond that I would say do not worry about it. And when I say “model” it, I don’t mean for you to correct her – only recast, or repeat her words with a non-lisped /s/ sound in a natural and casual way. Let me know how she is doing. It really sounds like just a developmental lisp.
      :) Heather

  13. Keyla Garcia says:

    Thank you for the tips. I’m glad I clicked on this link.
    My son is 2 yr old and I noticed he is pronouncing his “s” as “th” from beginning and middle (thircle, thun, cathle).
    I wasn’t sure what else I could do to help him correct this issue other than just repeating the “ssssssssss” sound. It is quite challenging since his focus retention is not for too long. So I try for very short period of times.
    I disagree with having to wait until 6 or 7 to do something about it or just hope that by 3 or 4 the issue has corrected itself. So I’m starting now. Thanks again.

  14. Mel says:

    I’m 26 and still have a lisp, not so bad as when I was a kid. I did speech therapy from grade one to 8

    One thing that helped me was making the t sound as in” teeth” because that shows where the tounge Should be while making an s sound

    T, SSS

    And making the s sound with a straw in front of the teeth is a good way to make sure the air is coming out the front, not the side

  15. Nic says:

    Thank u so much.
    My 2 year old has an amazing vocabulary, but I have recently noticed her frontal lisp. It’s great to have a couple of exercises to help her feel the way around her mouth and get her used to the real sounds she will be making in time.
    Thank u

  16. Shawna says:

    My daughter is only coming up on her third birthday but she has a very noticeable frontal lisp. I’m sure that it’ll start to correct on it’s own a little as she gets older but I didn’t know how to start the corrections at all. So thank you so much for this. We are just doing the auditory awareness and making “tsss” sounds to each other right now, but we have somewhere to start. Thanks again.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Shawna! That is so great to hear! Sounds like you are doing a great job already! Let me know how things progress!
      All the very best to you!
      Heather

  17. Kim says:

    I have a stubborn 4.5 year old who has a good frontal lisp. We’ve seen a SLP and she wasn’t concerned but we’re working on it at home. My efforts, however, create much frustration for him as he seems to feel wrong about it. I’m reassuring him that its not bad or wrong but he’s not willing to try for long even with praise or rewards. I’ve tried the mirror to show him how my /s/ looks different than his /s/. It’s progress if he even cooperates. Do you have any suggestions to help me make it more fun for him? thanks!

    • Heather says:

      HI Kim,
      Oh dear! I’ve worked with some kiddos just like your son. It can be very challenging to keep them motivated. Maybe try to work on in a game type format. Between turns on a favorite game, have a prize chart where he earns starts for each practice session and once he gets 5-10 stars, he gets a treat, have a “treasure chest” full of prizes for extra great effort, keep practice times short and sweet so he won’t get burnt out. Maybe have him choose the day and time each week? You could call it “Talk Time” and during talk time with mom, he knows he can earn stars, prizes, or stickers so he may be more willing to participate. Motivation is SO KEY! You are smart to try and get him back in the game sooner rather than later! Let me know if any of these helps!
      All the very best to you and your son!
      Heather

  18. Renee says:

    Hi Heather,
    I am 15, going on 16 and realized I am being made fun of more and more for my lisp on certain words. A kid in one of my classes refers to me as Syd. (The sloth from the movie Ice Age) because Syd himself pronounces his “s” differently. Now everyone calls me Syd and it is horrifying to speak in front of class. I just can’t get my tounge to stay in the back of my mouth. Do you have any ideas I can do rather than seeing a professional because my family can’t afford one. Thank you! (:

    • Heather says:

      Hi Renee! Oh bless your heart!! You are so sweet to write to me and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner! Life is just a tad crazy for me right now! LOL
      First of all, I want to apologize for that cruel, insensitive and clueless kid who makes you feel bad! I’m so sorry. Hugs to you, sweetheart!
      I would suggest seeing a speech therapist who can help you retrain your tongue by teaching you how to stabilize the back edges of your tongue along your upper teeth. So by pulling it back and holding the back edges of you tongue gently on the sides of your upper, back teeth, the front part of your tongue will be in a much more back position and easier to keep behind your front teeth. Try just holding the edges of the back of your tongue on the sides of your back teeth. Get used to how this feels. Then once you have the place down, try adding the /s/ sound. You won’t need to keep your tongue very firmly on those teeth once you begin to get used to controlling where it is in your mouth. It should begin to feel more natural. Let me now how this works for you!
      Love and hugs,
      Heather

      • Jennifer says:

        Oh Renee – my heart feels for you! Have you checked to see if there is a Speech and Language Pathologist who serves your school? I’m sure she/he would be more than happy to give you some suggestions to help you out. I am also a SLP and I have had a lot of success having students make the /t/ sound over and over again – basically just tapping the tongue tip on your alveolar ridge repeatedly on one stream of air. You should be able to hear the /s/ in between the /t/ productions. This will give you a good idea of where your tongue should be for the /s/. If you have a frontal lisp, this should help. If your air flow is coming out the sides of your mouth, this is a lateral lisp and is a little more difficult to remediate. However, it CAN be done! If you notice your air is coming out the sides of your mouth, you can use a straw to help direct the air flow correctly through the middle of your mouth. You can start by putting the tip (about an inch or so) in your mouth on your tongue. This will start to teach your tongue how to curl up on the sides (similar to a spoon). Blow out your air while trying to make it go straight down your tongue and through the straw – you can hear the difference if the air is actually going through the straw. Remember not to bite down. As this gets easier, slowly start pulling the straw out and see if your tongue can kept that position. Eventually, you will be able to put your teeth together with the straw touching the outside of your teeth. Another trick is to slightly push on your cheeks as you make the /s/ sound. Sometimes the muscles in your cheeks are weakened which allows the air to flow around the outside of your mouth instead of through the middle. This is just a beginning point and will help train your mouth what to do without having to push on your cheeks. I wish you the best Renee!!

  19. Carly says:

    I have heard that not much can be done about a lisp until around age 7, when the second teeth are coming through. Is this true or should I really be taking my 4yr old to a speech path now and start exercises? Her lisp is mild and cute now, but I wouldn’t want it to effect her in the future.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Carly! I would start therapy sooner rather than later. You are right, it is cute now, but I would recommend getting speech therapy by age 4 if she still has the lisp!
      Hope that helps!
      Heather

  20. Sarah Herrington says:

    I really liked the technique and activities you are doing with the child to help correct the frontal lisp. I especially enjoy the one technique you give to the parents to use to help correct the lisp. It really gets them involved.

  21. i am an adult can you tell me if this condition can be corrected now or is it too late.
    Thanks.

    • Heather says:

      I think that if you are motivated to change the behavior – it is possible for you to correct your lisp. I have worked with one adult on the articulation of the /r/ sound. It was VERY difficult for him to change the pattern he had for so many years. I think it is worth a try if you are motivated and up for a challenge. Let me know if I can help guide you in any way, but find a local Speech Pathologist who is qualified to help you correct that lisp. All the best to you.
      Heather

  22. Ann says:

    Thank you for the frontal lisp exercises. I am working with my 6 year old to correct this. I will let you know how he progresses!

  23. Roland says:

    I fear other kids will make fun of my 3 year old daughter for her lisp. It is nice to know there are some corrective actions that we can work on. Thanks! I’ll let you know how we’re doing in a few months.

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