What is a lisp? 

If a child you work with has a ‘lisp’ they may sound a bit different when they say the sound ‘s’. You can usually tell that the child is trying to say the sound ‘s’, but you may think it sounds ‘slushy’, ‘wet’, ‘hissy’, or more like a ‘th’ sound. Lisps happen when a child’s tongue is not in the typical position when they make the sound ‘s’. For example, their tongue might poke out further. 

Some families want help with their child’s lisp so they sound clearer. Other families and communities think that having a lisp is simply a different way of talking, and they accept the lisp as part of what makes their child unique. 

What causes a child to have a lisp? 

There is no known cause of a lisp. The following things have traditionally been linked to lisps, but there is no strong evidence: 

  • The position or movement of the child’s jaw, teeth, and tongue. 
  • Long term use of dummies or bottles. 
  • For most children, they have simply learned to say a ‘s’ sound differently, and this has become a habit. Children are more likely to have a lisp if they have a close family member who has a lisp. 

A child I work with has a lisp. Will they need speech and language therapy or will they just grow out of it? 

Some types of lisps are common when children first learn to talk. Lisps often disappear in time without therapy, usually by the age of four or five. Speech therapy may be helpful if the child’s lisp makes them difficult to understand, or if the child uses an unusual type of lisp. It can take a lot of energy and time for a child to change how they talk. Therapy works best when a child wants to work on their lisp and they can focus on therapy activities.   

If a child’s parents are concerned about their child’s lisp, it is best to contact a speech and language therapist. They will be able to assess what kind of lisp the child has, and they may provide some support to help the child say their sounds more clearly. 

We also have a free speech and language advice line, which is a confidential phone call with an experienced speech and language therapist. During the 30-minute call, you will be given the opportunity to talk through your concerns and questions regarding the child’s development. You can book your phone call here. 

My child has a lisp, what can I do to help? 

There are some things you can do to help a child with a lisp: 

  • Focus on what the child says, rather than how they say it. Be positive and accepting of how they sound. 
  • Model the right way to say a word when they make a mistake. For example, if the child says, ‘I am wearing blue ‘thocks’, you can say, ‘You are wearing blue socks.’ Don’t worry if they can’t say it back or copy you in the right way yet, they may not be ready. 
  • If a dummy or bottle is being used, try to reduce this. 
  • See our speech sound factsheet for more ideas.