A lisp in a child can be developmental or from incorrect placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, such as a lateral lisp. A lateral lisp is caused by the child directing air flow down the sides of the tongue rather than directly down the middle of the tongue. This causes the pronunciation of the letters ‘S’ and ‘Z’ to be muffled or slushy.
What may not be obvious to the parent is that the child with a lisp does not perceive themselves as speaking differently from the children or adults around them. Therefore, waiting for the child to “grow out of it” is not advisable, because children very rarely outgrow a ‘lateral’ lisp. The longer a child continues to pronounce words incorrectly, the more difficult it can be to correct the problem as the child grows older.
The result of waiting too long can be especially problematic as the child enters school. The child has the probability of being teased by peers and will not understand why. The child will perceive themselves as speaking flawlessly.
Beth Fine, of Fine Communication in Manhattan, New York, New York, had a young patient that, as an 8th grade student, had her dreams of having leading roles in school plays shattered because of her lateral lisp. She did not perceive her speech to be any different from her peers. With speech therapy, the student became aware of correct tongue placement and corrected her lisp in a relatively short period of time. Now a college student, she speaks in front of large groups of people and has chosen to be a mentor to other girls.