Emerging Lateral Lisp in 12-Month-Old

By Pam Marshalla

Q: I am an SLP and my 12-month-old daughter is developing a lateral lisp on her first words! Help!!!

I believe this to be one of the worst positions in which an SLP can find him- or herself.

We can teach midline sibilants to very young children, even toddlers, if we approach the acquisition of frication/stridency the way an infant does.  I would do these three things now ––

1. Teach her to make a lingua-labial raspberry.  Put the tongue between the lips and blow.  This should habituate midline airstream.  Don’t practice this sound if she stiffens her tongue and makes it think and hard along the midline, and if the sound comes out laterally.  Make it soft and floppy so the tongue stays loose.  This is gross midline airstream work.

2.  Teach her to spit.  I know you probably don’t want her spitting, but most little kids learn to spit before they ever learn specific fricatives.  Spitting is done with the two lips together (bi-labial spitting), and with the tongue-tip between the lips (lingua-labial spitting).  This also is gross midline airstream work.

3. Don’t try to teach her S just yet.  Instead, make sure she is making an excellent T with the airstream coming out the midline. Play with making T into a McDonald’s straw.  Hold the straw outside the front teeth at midline.  Blow the T through the straw into a bowl of milk or a cup of juice.  Or, better yet, take it away from the feeding experience and make it a bathtub play activity.

4. Choose a simple word that ends with T that she can acquire easily, like Eat, Out, or That.  Teach her to punch out that final T.  (Most toddlers turn final T into final TS, which then turns into final S.)

5. Make sure she is learning Long E (as in “Eat”).  The Long E position situates the back lateral margins of the tongue against the palate for the underpinnings of the midline airstream.  If she already can do E (which she probably can), teach her to pant through the E position. She will be making a midline airstream.  A few months down the road, teach her to round the lips while she makes this sound.  It should turn into Sh.  Practice saying “Shhh” to baby dolls, etc.

That’s all I would do for now, with special concentration on the first four.  The fifth item gets more to the sibilants themselves, and it is probably way too early for that now.

Remember: 

  • Be mom first and therapist a distant second.
  • Do this is ways that she doesn’t know anything is going on.
  • Don’t develop tension around speaking.  You don’t want to create dysfluencies.  Abandon all of it if tension begins to develop.
  • Also, remember that she still will be brilliant even if she doesn’t have 1000 words by age two years.  I know this is hard for an SLP, but hold back on the language stimulation a little.  Give her time for her articulation skills to catch up with her brain and her vocabulary.

0 thoughts on “Emerging Lateral Lisp in 12-Month-Old”

  1. This probably isn’t a true lateral lisp. I noticed all three of my own kids experimented with lateral sounds from 12 mo – 24 mo and until they refined the art of anterior air flow sometimes it came out funny. Noticing it especially with my 1 yr old’s /k/, which isn’t even a fricative. His little /k/ and /g/ are lateral sometimes and it is so cute. Of course I am not encouraging it, but I am certainly not going to worry about it. We just notice these things because of our training
    ; )

  2. In my case I am not concerned because correct anterior fricatives have been established — /s/, /sh/ and affricates /dz/ and /ch/ are already developed, but no posterior stops yet. When they do come out (approximated) they sound lateralized.
    With a 12 month old, unless she has been talking for a while, I can’t imagine diagnosing a lateral lisp. Maybe I haven’t been around enough advanced 12 month olds!

  3. Thank you so much for the advice on how to correct a lateral lisp! As a school based SLP, we do not see many of these anymore and I was starting to think I was crazy for wanting to start correcting it on my 2 1/2 year old son. Looks like we will busy this summer! He is stimuable for /s/ in isolation and words but we will take a few steps back in an attempt to retrain the tongue! Thanks again for the playful strategies.

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