As children begin to develop their speech and language skills, it is important to remember that speech sounds are acquired in specific patterns around approximate age ranges. Therefore, most children go through periods of development where their overall speech intelligibility is reduced.
In order to understand if a lisp is considered normal, one must first understand what a lisp actually is. Lisps can present themselves in a different manner, primarily as lateral and interdental, with misarticulations primarily on /s/ and /z/, though productions of “sh,” “ch,” and “j” are typically impacted as well. In order to accurately produce these speech sounds, airflow needs to be channeled down the middle of the tongue.
A lateral lisp occurs when the airflow passes over the sides of the tongue, which causes significantly distorted production of the targeted speech sounds. The manner of the production will have a “slushy” quality, and lateralized productions of speech sounds can be difficult to correct.
Another common lisp is the interdental lisp, in which the tongue protrudes between the upper and lower teeth distorting the airflow that is forced through the space during speech production. This type of lisp is often heard as a substituted “th” rather than an accurate /s/ or /z/.
In the preschool years, children are expected to have mastery of early speech sounds, and errors on later-developing speech sounds are considered typical. Therefore, distortions of /s/ and /z/ that present themselves as a lisp are often seen in children this age. However, around the age of five when children enter kindergarten, they should be more accurate with their speech sound production skills.
If a child continues to present with difficulty on particular sounds, further assessment may be beneficial. This is particularly true if the child presents with a lateralized lisp, as speech-language therapy is warranted to help re-mediate the place and manner of the errors. Evaluation is also recommended if the child presents with either inconsistent productions of speech sounds, or is significantly difficult to understand, regardless of age.
Read our blog on what to expect in a pediatric speech and language evaluation.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!