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Lateral Lisp: What Is It and How to Fix It

Have you ever wondered why your child can’t seem to get rid of that lateral lisp? It sounds as if they are saying “thush” instead of “this”. Lateral lisps can be so persistent and frustrating to correct. With proper intervention, your child should be able to reduce or eliminate their lateral lisp. If you want to know more about lateral lisps, what causes a lateral lisp, and how to help your child, read more:

Lateral lisp

What is a lateral lisp?

A lateral lisp occurs when a child produces the speech sounds /s/ and /z/ with airflow that goes out to the side of the mouth, instead of down the middle. This results in a “slushy” or wet-sounding speech production. Lateralized speech sounds are often more difficult for listeners to understand.


It can cause poor speech intelligibility which means people have a difficult time understanding what is being said. However, it is important to understand that lateralized sounds should be corrected. Why? Because if speech sounds are not corrected, they will likely persist into adolescence and adulthood.


Study shows that speech sound disorders are the most common type of childhood speech and language disorder. It is four times more common in boys than girls.


What causes a lateral lisp?

A lateral lisp can be caused by many things, including incorrect tongue placement, teeth that are not properly aligned, or mouth muscles that are too weak. Oftentimes, a combination of these factors contributes to a child developing a lateralized lisp.


For example, if a child has teeth that are not properly aligned, this can cause the tongue to be placed in an incorrect position. This then can lead to a lateral lisp. It is important to know what causes a lateral lisp because this will guide treatment.


Speech therapy can correct the lateral lisp

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Who diagnoses and treats lateral lisps?

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is the best professional to diagnose and treat a lateral or frontal lisp. After completing a comprehensive speech and language evaluation, the SLP will be able to develop a treatment plan that is specific to your child’s needs based on what causes a lateral lisp.


How to tell if my child has lateralized S?

Lateralized lisp is easy for parents to detect since it produces the distinctive “slushy” sound. Listen closely to your child as he vocalizes noises or words containing the “s” and “z” sounds. If your youngster has articulation problems, see an SLP. Early treatment of a lateralized S might help him acquire correct speech patterns more easily.


Other signs that your child may have a lateral lisp include:


  1. Tongue placement: You may notice that your child places his tongue between his teeth when producing the “s” and “z” sounds.

  2. Teeth placement: You may also notice that your child’s teeth are not properly aligned. This can cause the tongue to be placed in an incorrect position, which then can lead to a lateral lisp.

  3. Mouth muscles: If your child has weak mouth muscles, this can also contribute to a lateral lisp.


How can I help my child reduce their lateral lisp?

The most important thing you can do is to seek speech therapy intervention from a certified speech-language pathologist. Working with an SLP, your child will learn how to produce the /s/ and /z/ sounds correctly.


Speech-language pathologists are experts in helping children with speech sound disorders. If your child has a lateral lisp, don’t wait to seek help! The sooner you get started, the better.

lateralized s

How to say /S/ the right way

The development of the sound /s/ is a process. Babies and young children typically start by making the sound /s/ with air coming out of the mouth. This is called an “air leak.”


As babies and young children develop, they learn to make the sound /s/ with the tongue tip in between the teeth. This is called interdental production. The next step is to produce the sound with the tongue tip behind the top teeth. This is called alveolar production. Finally, children learn to produce the sound with the tongue tip at the back of the teeth. This is called velar production.


Most children will go through all of these stages before they are able to produce the sound /s/ correctly. The speech sound /s/ can be difficult for some children to produce correctly. This is because the /s/ is a fricative. A fricative is a speech sound that is produced by narrowing the speech organs and then releasing air through the narrow opening. Coordinating all of the speech muscles to produce a fricative correctly can be difficult, especially for young children.

If your child is having difficulty producing the speech sound /s/, you may want to try these tips:

  1. Have your child place their tongue tip behind their top teeth. You can practice this by using a lollipop or straw and put it behind the top teeth. This will help them get the tongue placement correct.

  2. Once your child has the hang of placement, have them practice producing the speech sound /s/ while holding their tongue tip in place.

  3. Keep the sides of their tongue up and touch the back molars.

  4. Tell your child to direct the airflow out through the middle of their mouth. This is easier if you associate the sound with the sound of an animal, such as a snake for /s/ and a bee for /z/.

Remember, it takes time and practice for a child to learn how to produce speech sounds correctly. Be patient and encourage your child to keep trying!


Isolation, Initial, Medial, and Final /s/


Now that we’ve talked about how to produce the speech sound /s/, let’s talk about isolation, initial, medial, and final /s/. Learning a new sound, like /s/, can be tricky. That’s why it’s important to break it down into smaller pieces.


Isolation is when a speech sound is produced by itself, without any other sounds. For example, the word “sun” has three speech sounds: /s/, /u/, and /n/. To practice isolation, have your child say the /s/ sound by itself.

What causes a lateral lisp

Initial is when a speech sound is at the beginning of a word. For example, the word “sun” has three speech sounds: /s/, /u/, and /n/. The speech sound /s/ is in the initial position.


Medial is when a speech sound is in the middle of a word. For example, the word “sun” has three speech sounds: /s/, /u/, and /n/. The speech sound /u/ is in the medial position.


Final is when a speech sound is at the end of a word. For example, the word “sun” has three speech sounds: /s/, /u/, and /n/. The speech sound /n/ is in the final position.

When you’re teaching your child a new speech sound, it’s important to practice all four positions: isolation, initial, medial, and final. This will help your child be able to use the sound correctly in any word or sentence.



Let’s Practice!


Now that we’ve talked about how to produce the speech sound /s/ and the different positions of /s/, it’s time to practice!

Here are some words that your child can practice:

  1. Sunglasses

  2. Soap

  3. Sock

  4. Sweater

  5. City


Now it’s your turn! Try saying these words out loud with your child. Can they produce the speech sound /s/ in all four positions?

  1. Sunflower

  2. Circle

  3. System

  4. Desert

  5. Mischief


Fantastic! Your child is on their way to producing the speech sound /s/ correctly. Keep up the good work!

Frontal lisp

5 tips from a speech therapist on how to help your child at home:


There are different ways that you can help your child at home. Here are 5 tips from a speech therapist on how to help your child reduce their lateral lisp:

  1. Model the correct way to say /s/ and /z/ sounds everyday. This means that you should say the sound correctly and have your child imitate you.

  2. Make sure that your child is using a correct speech production when they say /s/ and /z/ sounds. This means that the airflow should be directed down the middle of their mouth, not out to the side.

  3. Correct your child’s speech errors in a positive and encouraging way. This means that you should not criticize or make fun of your child’s speech.

  4. Encourage your child to practice their /s/ and /z/ sounds often. This can be done by having them read aloud or play sound games such as “I Spy” with objects that start with “/s/ and /z/ sounds.

  5. Be patient! It takes time and practice for a child to learn how to produce speech sounds correctly.


If you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to helping your child reduce their lateral and frontal lisp. Remember, speech therapy intervention from a certified speech-language pathologist is the best way to help your child eliminate their speech sound disorder. At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.


Frequently Asked Questions

Will my child outgrow a lateral lisp?

Most children do outgrow a lateral lisp, whether through speech therapy or naturally on their own. However, the 'wait and see' method is less common now, and earlier intervention is typically utilized as it has been shown to benefit children to begin speech therapy earlier. So whether or not a child will outgrow their lateral lisp simply depends on therapy, or whether or not they were going to naturally outgrow the lisp on their own.

What can I do to help my child with a lateral lisp?

How long does it take to fix a lateral lisp?

What are the risks of not fixing a lateral lisp?

Is there anything I can do to prevent a lateral lisp?


 

About the Author

Mikee Larrazabal


I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.


I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.

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