Adult vs. Child Lisp



Written by: Sonia Dubb / Lisp / March 2018

Is there a different between a child who has a lisp and an adult who has a lisp? The answer is yes. This blog will explore the differences in treating a child vs an adult who lisps. As an adult-focussed clinic, it is so important to recognized the nuanced approaches necessary when working with adults. 

What similar characteristics do Drew Barrymore, Micheal Phelps, and Barbara Walters have in common? 

Aside from their respective fame, they all share a functional speech impediment, otherwise known as a lisp. 

Before the age of six, lisping is not usually considered a functional speech impediment, and may even be perceived as sweet, funny, and adorable. In some cases, lisps persist into adulthood, as exemplified by the celebrities above. 

Although having a lisp may not significantly impact speech intelligibility (meaning, people can still understand you), for some adults, having a lisp can be frustrating and potentially embarrassing as it can affect their social, professional, and personal life. This can result in low confidence and self-esteem, due to the associated stigma and an adult’s own personal perception of having a lisp.

What is a Stigma?

Above, I mention that the stigma associated with having a lisp might cause an adult to experience lower self-esteem. Recent research has suggested that adult speakers with lisps are perceived differently than non-lisping peers. A study completed by Syrett and Brorson (2005) had 41 adults rating videos of two adult females with one showing signs of frontal lisping and the other showing no signs. Participants rated the subjects in the lisping videos as less cooperative, kind, friendly, and nice than in the non-lisping videos. Similar results were reported earlier by Silverman (1976) with respect to lateral lisping. These studies show that there may be a stigma against adults with a lisp.

Treating a Lisp in A Child

  • SLP uses visual and motor cues 
  • Tactile cues - the SLP can appeal to different senses 
  • The child is not expected to understand what is going on at the physiological level
  • The child is often unaware of the process of treating a lisp 
  • Finding funny and creative ways to prompt the child to understand where to place their tongue

Treating a Lisp in an Adult

  • Age-appropriate and explicit explanation about where the tongue goes 
  • Adults are capable of understanding the physiology 
  • Adults grasp a deeper understanding of how to sounds are produced (placement and manner) which may in turn enhance their motivation
  • The adult might face additional challenges in implementing the new way of speaking into their daily life, because they've spoken with a lisp for a much longer period of time, so the SLP must be equipped with highly effective strategies 

Nonetheless, it is valuable to recognize that whether you are a school-aged child or an adult, it is never too late to work on remediating a lisp. In fact, seeking treatment as an adult lisper may result in more effective and quicker results due to the high level of motivation.

At Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy we specialize in treating adults who present with a lisp by distinguishing the type of lisp present, teaching the correct placement and manner of distorted sounds, and engaging in drill practice to build muscle memory. Adults may also require additional counselling due to the associated change in their speech. By seeking treatment for a lisp, an adult’s communication, confidence, and pursuit of work and life goals may improve.

If you have any questions about lisp therapy, please do not hesitate to contact us for an initial consultation. Our clinicians at Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy are highly experienced in working with adults who lisp.