Is it worth pursuing speech therapy to fix a child's lisp ?
July 18, 2014 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Looking for arguments / reasoning to support pursuing speech therapy (school provided), to address a lisp on 'th' and 's' sounds. The child in question is turning 6.

Is this worth pursing ? Or is this just a pet peeve of mine? I know kids with lisps were given speech therapy at school when I was a kid, but was thinking attitudes may have changed.

posted by walkinginsunshine to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's the downside here? Lisps are harder to correct the older the child gets. Go for it.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 9:39 AM on July 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

Typical age expectations are that those sounds don't fully develop for most kids until 6 or 7. Here is one chart with some articulation expecations. There are lots of others if you do a web search. I think you would run into problems requesting speech intervention services given that this is in the realm of expected for that age. If your child is easily understood by outside listeners, this is probably within the realm of typical and will continue to develop on its own without intervention. If you have real concerns, having an evaluation won't hurt. You can request through the school district or you can pursue privately. ASHA has a provider locator that could help find a community provider close to you.
posted by goggie at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2014

I did therapy when I was seven and eight. The breakthrough came when the therapist started sticking a swab in my mouth to show me what my tongue was supposed to be doing.

Wait a little while if you want, but keep in mind that you probably understand the child much better than other people do.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:46 AM on July 18, 2014

I know kids with lisps were given speech therapy at school when I was a kid, but was thinking attitudes may have changed.

I received this in the mid '90s. It really helped me and I can't even replicate the way I used to sound. I'm very glad it was available to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:47 AM on July 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

My youngest is 24 and still has a lisp. He has a small overbite and shortened frenulum (the bit of skin that anchors the tongue to the base of the mouth). His lisp is potentially correctable by surgery -- clipping the frenulum -- which he did not desire to undergo.

So one thing to have the child evaluated for is whether this is even correctable by speech therapy. My son had a long list of speech defects when he was little. He self-corrected many of them but also spent a bit of time in speech to help with some of the others. He still cannot say TH properly and has no plans to get the surgery that would fix the problem.
posted by Michele in California at 9:47 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did school-provided speech therapy around age 6 for the r sound. I don't think I ever felt embarrassed or even conscious of my speech difference, but the therapy was a monumentally positive experience for me. The therapist was kind, but the work was hard. I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I was done. I feel like I learned a lot about body-awareness, effort and patience from the experience. And, I think I probably avoided the teasing that would likely have come soon after.

My niece had fairly profound speech deficits and had a similar experience with therapy.

I'd pursue it without reservations.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:53 AM on July 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Absolutely. I had speech therapy for a lisp in elementary school and after about half a year, it was as though I'd never had a lisp in the first place.

At the time I was too young to fully understand what was going on, but looking back, I am SO grateful that my school screened me and provided free speech therapy when they did. I imagine it would have been much harder and more embarrassing to go through at an older age. As it was, it was fun -- there were about 3 of us with similar lisps and we basically just played games with the speech therapist for about an hour every Friday.
posted by mekily at 9:55 AM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

I had speech therapy for a lisp in first grade, I think? I also had surgery to correct a problem with the little thingy that connects your upper lip to the rest of your mouth, and I'm not sure which one worked but I don't lisp anymore.
posted by elizardbits at 9:59 AM on July 18, 2014

Please do investigate this! I feel so bad for people who still have lisps as adults. It's cute on little kids and then all of a sudden they're older and it's not cute. People really do judge them negatively.
posted by radioamy at 10:07 AM on July 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

I had school-provided speech therapy for most of my elementary school years to correct several different issues. It has made a profoundly positive impact on my life. I am forever grateful for the change it made and would do it in a heartbeat for my child if he or she needed it.
posted by 3fluffies at 10:08 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is a dumb question, but have you asked a speech therapist or had your child evaluated by one yet? The problem with anecdotes in this situation is that it's impossible to say whether or not speech therapy caused the change or if children simply grew out of it while doing therapy. A speech therapist should be able to evaluate your kid and whether there's some risk of long-term impediment that requires intervention.
posted by muddgirl at 10:10 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Everything Michele in California said about physical and severity evaluation (I cannot speak towards her son's specific issues).

Whether or not the school decides it's bad enough to pursue it, I'd consider having him privately evaluated to see if it is not bad enough to "need need" to do it.

My kids had some private therapy along these lines, and the goal was to get them far enough along that the did well in most circumstances. They are not 100% "okay" but good enough. They were privately therapied and are privately tested every six months or so to see if they have maintained enough progress on their own or require further therapy.

Another item with regards to speech therapy: a friend's child had a severe lisp. Her parents chose to go the private therapy route, and as a tweenager was improved in a clinical setting but not as much in a causal setting. She started attending therapy sessions (at a reduced rate) with a friend and the therapy was conducted in a "natural" or "casual" language format, with the therapist as therapist, guiding the conversation and providing corrective reminders (or whatever it is he did, I wasn't there this is second-hand) which improved her lisp even more. Makes me think of the opposite of white coat syndrome: instead of being "off" while working with the therapist, she was better with the therapist, and instead of being "fine" in every day life, was "off" in every day life, leading to more effective therapy and correction.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 10:10 AM on July 18, 2014

Nthing that this is a good thing. I also had speech therapy for a lisp at that age, it was a good experience, abd I don't have a lisp anymore.

Considering that there can be substantial downsides to going through life with a speech impediment (teasing as a child, potential reduced credibility as an adult), I don't know why you wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to get it fixed.
posted by jeoc at 10:13 AM on July 18, 2014

I'm a school speech therapist, so this is some "inside" info on what schools may be looking for when they decide if a child is eligible for an evaluation.

Speech therapy in the schools is under the umbrella of special education. In my district, students are considered as having a speech and/or language disability if they qualify for services. This includes a range of severity from articulation issues to stuttering to vocabulary issues to students who are completely nonverbal.

Our district uses the Iowa-Nebraska Norms to determine when sounds develop, which lists the /s/ as developing at 7, the quiet (unvoiced) th (like in bath) at age 8, and the voiced th sound (such as "these") at age 7, and z sounds, which are sometimes affected by a lisp, at age 7.

There are other norms that have these sounds developing younger; I personally think our district uses these stricter guidelines to provide therapy for fewer kids. The norms are important, but professional knowledge and opinions come into play, too.

In my district, we have to show that a child is significantly behind the developmental norms. We also have to show that the speech issue is having a negative impact on the child's school performance or comfort level with sharing info verbally in school. As a parent, you might document if your child has asked why they sound different or if they are aware of their speech issue. If peers have commented about it, or if their teacher finds it distracting when they are reading, that is evidence that the issue is having a negative impact on their school experience.

Under the IDEA law, the definition of education INCLUDES all environments at school, including the bus ride, recess, lunch, and after school activities. So if your district says that your son is not eligible because he is getting straight A's, for example, you can state that you understand that your son's rights to an education include communication in non-academic environments.

The first step in my district is to call either the assistant principal or the speech therapist at your son's school directly and ask to have a meeting to discuss your son's articulation. In my district, this is a "child study" meeting and is where we determine if an evaluation is necssary. We have to have supporting evidence that a child's articulation or speech is significantly different from their peers, and is impacting them in some way in the classroom (even if it is just that it is distracting for listeners) to recommend an evaluation.

I believe this is nation-wide: from that first meeting, the district will have 65 days to conduct the evaluation--you'll then meet back to have what is called the "eligibility" guidelines, where it will be determined if your child is eligible for speech therapy. **I would ASK for the eligibility guidelines for having a speech and language impairment for your district at your first meeting. You can look over the guidelines and see if you can provide evidence for what is needed if your son is struggling. It will also help you be informed as a parent, and let the school know that you know the guidelines.

Some schools overlook the social aspect and only concentrate on grades. (Some, not all.) Many times whether a child is eligible or requires services is a gray area, and different speech therapists have different professional opinions on when a child needs therapy. (For example, at age 6, your son is younger than some of the guidelines, but factors like family history of articulation issues might cause them to want to see him earlier.) There are also different kids of lisps--a frontal lisp (sticking your tongue out quietly while making sounds) is more typical that the "slushy-sounding" lateral lisp, where air escapes from the sides of the mouth. As mentioned earlier, structural issues affect speech, too.

**Also, it's pretty new, but a few districts are doing "speech interventions" or a program that gives kids a few therapy lessons without going through the whole process--it's good to ask at child study if any speech interventions or a home practice program is available, whether your son qualifies for an evaluation or not.

So, I'd recommend calling to set up a meeting and requesting an eval. Be prepared with any evidence or concerns you have or have seen in your son due to his articulation issues, if you have noticed them. Don't be aggressive, but be informed.

Let me know if you have other questions!
posted by shortyJBot at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2014 [17 favorites]

A friend of mine has parents who didn't put him into (free, school-provided) speech therapy as a kid. After years of teasing, he went to the library as a middle-schooler and checked out books on how to fix his issues himself. He muddled through, and went to a speech therapist as soon as he was an adult. He speaks fine now, but he has to try really hard to do it and the resentment is still strong.
posted by kimberussell at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had school provided speech therapy for a lisp. It was fun (games! Individual attention! Prizes) and it worked. Except when I am insanely drunk/tired or have a retainer in. I don't think it's fair that people judge lisping adults as dumb, but I think they do so. Good speech therapy will either be successful or harmless so I don't get a downside.
posted by atomicstone at 10:29 AM on July 18, 2014

I did it too and hated every minute (it took 5 or 6 years of weekly therapy to fix my very pronounced lisp), but I am so, so grateful now that my school offered it and my parents took the school up on the offer. I don't see what the downside would be. I think I was about 6 when I started.
posted by snaw at 10:47 AM on July 18, 2014

Maybe this is a dumb question, but have you asked a speech therapist or had your child evaluated by one yet? The problem with anecdotes in this situation is that it's impossible to say whether or not speech therapy caused the change or if children simply grew out of it while doing therapy. A speech therapist should be able to evaluate your kid and whether there's some risk of long-term impediment that requires intervention.

School speech therapists don't typically don't provide services to children who don't need them so an evaluation kind of goes without saying. They have to be evaluated first to determine whether there is a problem and to propose a treatment plan.

My friend's nephew started speech therapy at around 3 or 4 to get him ready for school. His speech was a bit delayed and his words were garbled. The therapy made a profound difference. He was much less frustrated because people could understand him. And his older sister could stop making up translations for him, e.g., Victor wants a strawberry popsickle when Victor actually wanted a yellow marble.
posted by shoesietart at 10:49 AM on July 18, 2014

I believe this is nation-wide: from that first meeting, the district will have 65 days to conduct the evaluation

I've heard sixty but I am no pro, just a parent who is still learning.

Note: this deadline may not include summer break, depending on if your school or district is staffed sufficiently year round.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 10:50 AM on July 18, 2014

In case my last comment wasn't clear, my question was has an evaluation been performed yet. Obviously an evaluation would be performed at some point, but it's unclear to me whether walkinginsunshine is asking how far to pursue this after an evaluation that indicated no therapy was needed.
posted by muddgirl at 11:01 AM on July 18, 2014

I had speech therapy around that age for a lisp and for trouble with the r sound. Do it. I was embarrassed by how I sounded and made fun of. Had I not had help, it would have really started impacting my schooling and social life because I wouldn't have wanted to talk at school, especially because I'm social anxious as is (and was then too). It took awhile, but I was able to fix both problems. Speech therapy is a great thing, don't saddle your kid with a speaking problem just because some people might not mind lisps.
posted by katers890 at 11:09 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a lisp until I went to private school in seventh grade and they threw my butt right into speech therapy for the next two years and then I graduated and my High School also put me in speech therapy for another year (or two?) and it finally stuck. I can only assume this would have not taken 3-4 years if a speech therapist was available at my elementary school.

I still notice it when I have been drinking, but other people don't seem to hear it at all and are surprised when I mention my therapy classes. Personally I'm happy I had the opportunity to fix the issue.
posted by Julnyes at 11:11 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would do the work and also have the SLP look for any other problems. If you feel there is a problem with your child's speech and you are the person best able to understand your child, then other people probably have trouble. Unless you are in a very well funded school system, I would not wait for the school SLP to intervene. But I'm in British Columbia and teachers tell me that they don't even have funding to help mute children.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:24 AM on July 18, 2014

I had a Cindy Brady-grade lisp when I was little and I had speech therapy that I barely remember when I was in third or fourth grade. Forty years later my tongue still tries to go rogue once in a while and it can be annoying and frustrating in certain situations. I can't think of a single reason not to do this.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:34 AM on July 18, 2014

Yes yes yes. I had speech therapy for years and I still have a slight lisp.. I hate it, I got picked on for it. As a male it bothered me to no end. For the sake of your childs self esteem please do it.
posted by brownrd at 2:20 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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