My Best Tips and Techniques to Use When Working With a Lateral Lisp

March 6, 2017

Most of you seasoned therapists know and use the techniques that I am going to share, so I apologize if you are disappointed that there’s nothing new for you. However, those who have less experience under their belts and feel frustrated with the lateral lisp will appreciate these “pearls of wisdom.”

What is a Lateral Lisp?

According to Carolyn Bowen, “Lateral lisps are not found in typical speech development. The tongue position for a lateral lisp is very close to the normal position for /l/ and the sound is made with the air-flow directed over the sides of the tongue. Because of the way it sounds, this sort of lisp is sometimes referred to as a 'slushy ess' or a 'slushy lisp.’ A lateral lisp often sounds 'wet' or 'spitty.'

Unlike interdental and dentalized lisps, lateral lisps are not characteristic of normal development. An SLP assessment is indicated for anyone with a lateral lisp.” (direct quote from her website) Since a lateral lisp is not developmental, you do not delay therapy until the child is older. You would address it as soon as it is identified according to Dr. Lonnie Harris.

Treatment Techniques

As the old adage goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat and I’m going to share some proven strategies and even some unorthodox methods that have worked for me. Yeah, I’ve always been a rebel of a therapist.

The number one best tip I can give you is to go to Carolyn Bowen’s website and wander through her personal gold mine for lots of great information. I’ll make it simple for you and put a link here that will take you straight to her techniques for Lisps: 

I do, however, want to summarize what you will find there. Besides defining the four different types of lisps, she also reviews the Traditional Approach to Articulation Therapy clearly defining each step in the process. Along with the steps for traditional therapy you will find links to the Butterfly Procedure and Imagery and the Butterfly Position. 

It is this Butterfly Procedure to which I want to draw your attention. Basically, you can achieve correct tongue positioning for /s/ by approaching it from /ts/. She provides very detailed directions for using this technique in 10 easy steps. She will direct you from beginning to the final, end product of having that good /s/ in words, at which time she transfers you to traditional articulation therapy.

Years ago Jane Folk published a book called Straight Speech: a lisp treatment program (1992) which taught /s/ from the “ts.” It was a wonderful book that provided all the word lists and practice materials for using this treatment approach. Unfortunately, it is out of print, and difficult to find.  At one time it was still available from The Speech Bin, but that division of School Specialty has been eliminated.  However, you may wish to contact them to see if you can still get a copy of the book via the Abilitations division. 
You may wish to also keep an eye out from older SLPs who are retiring and selling their books.

An unorthodox approach we have used successfully is to convert that lateral lisp into a frontal lisp and then correct the frontal lisp. Crazy? Definitely, but it works! You aren’t really going to do a complete conversion from lateral to frontal because the idea is to teach /s/ from voiceless /th/. If you do try this strategy, I caution you to not tell the child that you are working on /s/, as just the thought causes the tongue to go to the lateral position. Tell them you are going to work on /th/. In session one, practice /th/ in isolation. For session two, practice /th/ with the teeth closed. DO NOT say anything about /s/ at this point! This is crucial. For the third session, the child should be saying /th/ with closed teeth (which in reality should be the perfect /s/). If the child is doing the /s/ correctly at this point, then at the end of this 3rd session you tell them that they have been doing the /s/ sound correctly!! They will look at you in total disbelief and you will say, that is how you say /s/. If they revert back to a lateral at this point remind them to think /th/ to get the tongue back into position. After that, you should be able to follow the normal therapy sequence.

Another great tip is Pam Marshalla’s book, Frontal Lisp, Lateral Lisp. She wrote an entire book on the lateral and frontal lisps, which includes how to diagnose direction of airflow, treatment techniques, how to combine articulation and oral motor therapy, and much more. This would make a great resource for your personal library.

I was always successful with one or the other of these techniques, so give them a try!

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