Can Stuttering Be The Result Of A Lateral Lisp?

One of the most important stages of a child’s early life is speech development. Lagging in this department may lead to speech impediments such as stuttering, lateral lisp, and cluttering.

Stuttering is a common issue among children ages 2 to 4 years old. It shows up during a child’s speech development – especially during his or her “talkative years” – though it is not usually a permanent speech impediment; it usually lasts for a few weeks before it resolves itself and disappears. Stuttering is characterized by an involuntary sound repetition, in which the child can’t pronounce certain syllables without repeating them. The late Prime Minister of Great Britain Winston Churchill and British King George VI are just two famous figures who have overcome their stutter, and there have been countless others.

Telling Signs of Stuttering

  • Long pauses
  • Abnormal hesitation
  • Blocks, or the inability to produce sounds
  • Prolongation of vowels or semivowels
  • Inability to finish a sentence
  • Difficulty starting a word or phrase
  • Use of the sound “um” when experiencing difficulty saying the next word
  • Tightness of the mouth and face when speaking
  • Tension, nervous tics, and anxiety

One speech impediment commonly associated with stuttering is the lateral lisp, or lisp, which is the inability to pronounce certain consonants. Having a lateral lisp may cause someone to stutter involuntarily.

What Is A Lateral Lisp?

A lisp refers to the speech impediment that is characterized by a person’s difficulty to pronounce the /s/ and /z/ sounds. This is due to the incorrect placement of the tongue, which produces the said consonants. When a person has a lisp, the tongue sticks out of the front teeth, which pulls the /s/ and /z/ sounds and creates a /th/ sound. For example, the word “super” sounds like “thuper”. There are four kinds of lisp: interdental, dentalized, palatal, and lateral.


In this lisp, the tongue sticks out of the front teeth and directs the air forwards. There are two types: interdental /s/, which turns the voiceless alveolar fricative consonant /s/ into a /th/ sound; and interdental /z/, which turns the voiced alveolar fricative consonant /z/ into a /th/.


In this lisp, the tongue pushes against the front teeth thus muffling the sound when the airflow is pushed outwards.


When a child has a palatal lisp, the midsection of the tongue hits the soft palate at the back, which what creates the prolonged /s/ sound.


Lateral lisp is the most common and familiar form of lisp. Here, the tongue is in a similar position as when it makes the /l/ sound, but the air flows out of the sides of the tongue. The result is a “slushy” or “spitty” /s/ or /z/ sound. Unlike interdental or dentalized lisp, a lateral lisp is not found in normal speech development.

smiling little girl


How Are Lisps Treated?

Lisps are treated by licensed professionals called speech therapists. They first assess the severity of the lisp and then determine which exercises to prescribe. These therapy exercises target the oral parts such as tongue, teeth and jaw responsible for the speech impediment.

Bite Block Exercise

The “bite-block” exercise uses a small piece of prop (the bite-block) that serves as a mouth wedge. If unavailable, the child can use his or her own
thumb instead. The bite-block is put in the corner of the mouth and the child works on producing the desired sound. What the bite-block does is stabilize the jaw to allow the tongue to move freely and autonomously.

The /t/ Sound Exercise

After using the bite-block to stabilize the jaw, the child is encouraged to produce an aspirated /t/ sound. The /t/ sound is a sudden sound produced by placing the tip of the tongue on the alveolar ridge then releasing it, which causes the built-up air to release.

The /ts/ Sound Exercise

The next stage is for the child to produce the word /ts/ sound, which is a combination of the sounds /t/ and /s/. While still using the bite-block, encourage the child to produce a series of /t/ sounds (i.e. t, t, t, t, t). Then ask the child to elongate the sound. Because the bite-block keeps the jaw stable, the child will have no problem releasing the air properly for the /s/ sound. The next stage is to ask the child to produce the /ts/ sound until he becomes accustomed to it.

The /s/ Without /t/ Exercise

The goal of the next exercise is for the child to get the correct /s/ sound without the /t/ sound. He or she will be asked to separate the /s/ sound from the /ts/ sound achieved in the previous exercise. To achieve this, the bite-block is still used and kept in place to stabilize the jaw. Then the child will be encouraged to keep producing the /ts/ sound. Then gradually, he or she will be asked to keep the tongue from touching the alveolar ridge before releasing the air, thus sustaining the /s/ sound.

Removing The Bite-Block

The final exercise is to remove the bite-block that stabilizes the kid’s jaw. Around this time, the child should have enough practice and the muscle memory to produce the /ts/ sound. This time, he or she will be asked to do it without the bite-block. To achieve this, the child will first assume the right position of the mouth and tongue with the bite-block in use. Then the kid will keep this mouth position while the bite-block is removed.

The child will be encouraged to always remember these mouth position. Once the child can comfortably produce the /ts/, he or she will be then asked to keep the tongue from touching the alveolar ridge while keeping the explosive release of air through the mouth.

Lisps In Adults

If left untreated, the lisp of the child can carry over to adulthood. Thus it is not surprising to hear an adult who “speaks funny” because of his lisp. And because by adulthood he has already gained enough vocabulary and speech mannerisms, the lisp becomes more noticeable.

While not a disability, lisp can affect an adult’s everyday life, especially in his social and professional circles. Having difficulty communicating effectively can have adverse effects on his work, relationships and even everyday social interactions. Having lisp can also lower self-confidence, which further decreases motivation to work or socialize.

However, not all is lost, because just like a child’s lisp, an adult’s lisp can be corrected through speech therapy. Getting the help of a speech therapist/ language pathologist can reintroduce proper techniques to rectify this speech impediment. For inspiration, just look at these successful celebrities who still have lisps, or corrected their lisps:

  • Michael Phelps (Olympic medalist swimmer)
  • Mike Tyson (boxer)
  • Drew Barrymore (actress)
  • Barbara Walters (journalist)
  • Marilyn Monroe (actress)
  • James Earl Jones (actor)
  • Can Stuttering Be The Result Of A Lateral Lisp?

    Before seeking treatment if the lisp causes stuttering, the speech pathologists may conduct a preliminary assessment. These assessments may include determining:

    • If there is a history of stuttering in the family
    • If the child has been stuttering for more than six months
    • If the stuttering is severe
    • If the child has withdrawn himself socially due to his or her lisp
    • If the child feels distressed and stops talking

    Studies reveal that potential causes of stuttering are often physiological (the abnormality in speech control), and genetics (stuttering runs in the family). Other possible causes include trauma (accidents, brain injury, stroke, and brain disorders), and poor speech development of the child (isolation, poor learning, and abuse). Other speech impediments like lateral lisps may also cause stuttering. The lisp itself becomes the trigger that inhibits the child to speak properly.

    Lisps make it hard for the child to pronounce the /s/ and /v/ sounds; the motor skills needed to control the tongue and air inside the mouth are lacking, thus it may contribute to stuttering. Another possibility is that there is a psychological cause behind a lateral lisp, and since lisps can affect self-esteem, it may discourage the child to rectify his or her speech impediment. The emotional toll of lisps may also contribute to stuttering as the child may altogether stop trying to communicate with spoken words.

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    Speech impediment is a very important issue because it affects a child. If you leave the speech impediment untreated, stuttering and lisps can affect his or her social, mental, and psychological development. Also, speech impediments carry over to adulthood if not correctly early so it is important to treat stuttering and lateral lisps as early as possible.

    For parents of children with stuttering problems or other speech impediments, it is important to be very attentive to your speech development. You should document early symptoms, and if stuttering continues for more than six months without disappearing, then the parents should bring their child to a speech pathologist. For adults with stuttering and lateral lisps, it is best to seek help from medical professionals immediately. Therapy may take longer for adults, but that doesn’t mean they can treat it effectively.

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