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Hot Topic Blog - Speech & Reading


By Carrie Clark, Speech-Language Pathologist in Columbia, Missouri

February 2015


With a lateral lisp, air is forced over the sides of the tongue for sounds like /s/, /z/, “ch,” and “sh” instead of over the front of the tongue. This results in a slushy kind of speech quality. It may sound like the child has too much saliva in the mouth. Follow these steps for fixing a lateral lisp in speech therapy.


Step One: Take an Inventory:


First, collect a sample of words to find out which sounds the child is lisping on. The most common culprits are /s/, /z/, “sh,” “ge,” (like beige), “ch,” and “j.” While you’re doing this, try as many different words as possible because you also want to see if there are any words that break the pattern. Are there any words where the child can say one of those sounds correctly? For example, maybe she can say the sound when it’s next to a /t/ sound. If you can find any good sounds, use those to practice the correct (non-lisped) productions. If not, try step two.


Step Two: Try Positional Cues


Try telling the child where to put his tongue and help him locate the correct tongue position for the sound. Talk about the air going over the front of the tongue instead of the sides. If this type of positioning work is successful, move on to step four with those sounds. If not, try step three.


Step Three: Use Other Sounds to Piggy Back


Find a sound that the child is able to produce with forward air flow, like /t/. Then, have the child add a lisped sound right after it or gradually transition from one to the other. For example, you could have the child say “t…t…t” and then hold a /t/ sound out to make it a “tsssss” sound. Or, you could try having the child produce a “th” sound and then slowly pull the tongue back into the mouth to make the /s/ sound.


Step Four: Try Some Words


Once the child is able to produce one of the lisped sounds without a lisp, you are ready to start practicing that sound in words. Keep in mind that some words will be harder than others, so find some easy ones and work your way to the harder ones.


Step Five: Expand to Other Contexts


Try a larger variety of words such as using the sound at the beginning, middle, and end of words. You can also practice it in longer words or in sound blends (like “st,” “sk,” and “sp”).


Step Six: Sound in Sentences and Conversation


When the child can consistently say the target sound in single words, practice putting those words into sentences and help the child remember to say it correctly in conversational speech as well. To learn about generalizing speech sounds to conversation, click here!


Step Seven: Other Sounds


Once the child has mastered one of the lisped sounds using the approach listed above, you’re ready to work on a new sound. I recommend using the first sound to achieve the next sound. Here’s how you can use these sounds to build upon one another:


-/s/ can easily be turned into a /z/ by turning the voice on. The tongue placement and airflow is the same so nothing should change except the voicing. Have the child practice going back and forth between /s/ and /z/ by not changing the mouth position but just turning the voice on and off.

-/s/ can be turned into “sh” by pulling the tongue backward in the mouth or by lowering the tongue tip.

-“ge” (like beige) can be achieved by turning the voice on for the “sh” sound.

-“ch” can be achieved from “sh” by pushing the sound out forcefully and adding a hard “t” sound to the beginning of the “sh” sound (sounds like “t-shhhhh”).

-“j” (like judge) can be achieved by voicing the “ch” sound.


As you can see, the sounds build on one another. Just start with the easiest one for the child, and go through all steps. Then work on getting one more sound and go through all the steps again. Keep repeating until all are fixed.


For more in-depth suggestions and help, as well as word lists, click here to see the original article on my website.


About the Author


Carrie Clark is a speech-language pathologist in Columbia, Missouri who runs a website at  Carrie is determined to make the world of speech therapy an easier place to navigate by providing easy-to-understand information and activities for parents and by providing speech-language pathologists with tools and resources they need to make their jobs easier.