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The Simple Lisp: or Maybe Just the 'R'

By Maureen Penko: Penko and Associates Registered Speech - Language Pathologist

Over the holidays, I met a young adult performer in a social setting who had a pronounced lisp and shared that his auditions were impacted by his speech impediment. He went on to say that he wished he could have had speech therapy when he was a child. He asked if it was too late now. I replied that it was worth the consult.

Over the years in practice, I have undoubtedly come across a referral that says " child has a simple lisp please see" I suppose it not the same as a child who is unintelligible, however it doesn't mean that there isn't a concern and one that takes time to treat.

The lisp involves the tongue and there are the two types of lisps; one is with the tongue protruding between the front teeth sounding airy while the other is out of the sides of the teeth and sounding slushy. The sounds that might be affected are the s, z, sh, ch and j.

Warner Brothers captured the lisp with the character, 'Sylvester the Cat.'
In the assessment the speech language pathologist looks at the relationship of the teeth to the tongue, dental and jaw alignment, the mouth structures, breathing patterns and coordination during speech. In some cases a tongue thrust may be present and this occurs when the tongue pushes against the teeth during the swallow causing an open bite. Most recently research has shown that soother suckers are more prone to the lisp as the tongue develops a frontal thrust pattern.

The r sound is a later developing sound. However if left too long after age 5, the correction of this sound can be difficult. The English language demands production of this sound with a variety of vowels. Each of these sound environments is unique and very involved. The r sound in fact requires the most sophisticated tongue movement and can be difficult to treat.

A speech language pathologist is the professional who can determine the cause of any speech difficulty and in turn provide the appropriate treatment. If needed consultation with dental specialists may be a consideration.

These sound difficulties are not simple and direct treatment from a speech language pathologist is required.

A parent recently said that the teacher was concerned about her child's speech and mentioned that other children said they didn't know what she was saying and her speech sounded funny. As a parent this is a painful message to hear and one that makes you worried about what your child may be feeling.

So my recommendation is don't get advice from others and wait because you heard they will grow out of it. Rather treat it as a concern and get an assessment. These speech sound errors are noticeable when your child enters kindergarten. Remember your child's self-esteem is very important for their success in school and the way they hear and produce sounds affects their literacy development. So get what is needed before you child enters school. Once in school speak to your school speech language pathologist and find out what services are available. Remember you are you child's advocate.

Maureen Penko is a registered speech language pathologist and owner of the practice, Penko and Associates. Maureen has extensive experience working in both the hospital and school settings.

Assessment and Treatment services for speech and language concerns are listed on the website. Call today for an appointment - 204- 510-7556

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The Simple Lisp: or Maybe Just the 'R'

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