and another type of Lisp


The slim, pretty teenager bounced into the room where I was talking with a teacher.

Can you help me? – she asked – I have a problem with saying ‘sss’ – and indeed, she did have a problem! The ‘ss’ came out with a slushy sound, and when she started talking some more, this sound that was not ‘ss’ became more and more evident, affecting the way she said ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ as well.

This is quite a common condition that I deal with as a Speech and Language Therapist. And it is

often a difficult one to sort out – depending upon -

1. Whether he or she is willing to put in the necessary practice and self-monitoring to change this habit of speech.

2. How much he or she wants to correct his or her speech

This young lady told me, she has never felt ‘odd’, because a number of her family members also have this speech defect. However, she is aware that people do not always understand her properly, and really wants to get it sorted out. In fact, she has talked to her brother, who also has the same problem, and he wants to do the practice she does and is keen to follow any advice I can give to her about it!

The young lady I spoke of above does not have an interdental sigmatism, but a lateral sigmatism.

Instead of pushing her tongue tip between her teeth, she allows the air to escape from the sides of her tongue instead of down a narrow channel in the middle of her tongue. (Try it out yourself - say 'lll' and as you are saying 'lll', turn it into a hissy, friction sound)

She has reached the age where she is beginning to be self-conscious – which is a good thing for therapy, because this is a strong motivator for her to sort out this frustrating speech habit. there is nothing so hard as to try and get a child to cooperate with therapy when they just don't feel the need!

So I first assess the way Laila’s tongue, lips and jaw are coordinating.

She has a slightly irregular shaped mouth, with a bite that shows a little gap on one side. I suspect that this may well be a family characteristic, and may be the cause of several members of her family having the same speech difficulty. And the way her tongue is positioned for saying the ‘ss’ sound is as I expected – the sides of her tongue are down, and her tongue tip is up, so the air is coming out all wrong to make the correct sound of ‘ss’.

Within a few minutes, she had grasped the idea of what to do with her tongue and how to make the correct sound of ‘ss’. I talked her through where and how to make the sound, but often, I need to do a lot more 'visualising' to help the child to get the right position of tongue in the mouth and the way to use the air to make the correct sound!


Now the hard part – getting the sound into speech: practicing saying it first in syllables with a vowel that is ‘a 'close' one, not open like 'aa', so she tries syllables like ‘ssee, ssee, ssee’ – and once that is established, getting her to say it with other vowels, and with ‘ss’ at the end or middle position of two syllables.

Only after lots of practice of this sort, and getting the sound correct easily, can she go on and practice putting her new ‘sss’ into words and later into sentences.

Sometimes it is a long process, other times, this can be done within a few weeks.

As always, the last stage is where this young lady herself will need to monitor this ‘ss’ in her everyday speech – doing what a baby does quite naturally by listening to herself and others to regulate her pronunciation and make the incredibly fine adjustments needed for clear speech.

Have you ever thought about why the 's' sound seems to be such a common sound to go wrong?

Let's think about Butterflies!

There is a wonderful Aussie Speech Therapist called Caroline Bowen, to whom many therapists I know owe a huge debt of gratitude for her generosity in making a range of carefully graded and excellent speech materials available online, (link below) for which she only asks optional donations. These are a gold mine to Speech Therapists. I have attended her workshops, in which seemingly insurmountable speech and phonological problems and the way to deal with them become a stroll in the park in logical, practical steps.

So - where do the Butterflies come in?

Caroline wrote an article about the Butterfly Technique, which she attributes to a colleague of hers, but which she has adopted and adapted to become a powerful tool in therapy. I want to share it here, because if your child is having difficulty getting the 's' sound right, it may just help you to know how to help him or her. Obviously, if the problem continues, therapy will be needed.

Butterflies give you a kick - start, by helping you visualise with your child how to make the correct sound. Imagine a butterfly in your mouth (Ooooooh! How tickly!) !!!!***>><<***!!!

Think about the butterfly wings, raising them to sit, with the sides just touching the sides of your mouth, and the body of the butterfly resting on your tongue. Imagine the tiny gap left, right down the middle of your tongue, out through the front teeth, and let the ear hiss along there gently! Got it? 'ssssss!'

There! That's the first step - your child can practice saying that sound correctly by itself, then add an 'eee' to it, saying 'sssseee'. If you get that far with helping your child get the 'ss' correctly, chances are that he and you will be able to see it through to getting a good 'ss' in everyday speech. Practice is the key, getting the new habit is hard, because it feels so odd to say 'ss' in this way!

That is not the only technique I use to help a child learn the 'ss' sound - but it is a good one!

In future posts I will give some ideas for helping to get some of the other sounds that children - people - cannot say correctly.

And it you have ideas, and/ or have had a different approach that worked - or didn't work then do share!

For now - happy speaking!

Warm good wishes


Caroline Bowen: