Stopping Stopping (Organizing the “Hissing Sounds”)

By Pam Marshalla

Q: In my therapy with kids who have the stopping process, I typically start with S-clusters and S in the postvocalic position.  It seems they develop the idea of “fricative-ness” more easily this way and, from there, they more easily go on to prevocalic S.  I find that starting with prevocalic S often leads to a lot of frustration because they learn “sock” as “stock,” and so forth. Can you comment on this?

First, we have such a mess in dividing sounds into groups called fricatives, affricates, stridents, and sibilants.  What confusion.  I propose that we call Th, Th, F, V, S, Z, Sh, Zh, Ch, J, and H with only one term –– “The Hissing Sounds.”

So let’s talk about stimulating the Hissing Sounds when they are absent.

My experience is exactly the same as yours. The Hissing Sounds come in much more easily at the ends of words ––

  • I usually begin with word final Ts –– Hats, cats, lights, boats
  • Then I move on to postvocalic voiceless Th, F, S, Sh, CH –– Bath, Off, Bus, Fish, Ouch
  • Then I move on to postvocalic S-Clusters with P and K –– Books, Cups…
  • Then I go on to word-initial position S-Clusters with Sp, st, sk, sm, sm, sl, sw –– Spoon, star, skate, smoke, snake, sweater, slide
  • Then I go to the prevocalic sounds Th, F, S, SH, CH, H –– Think, Four, Sock, Shoe, Choo-choo, Hot

But of course this is just a plan in my head. I always probe for stimulability and go with what the client shows me he/she is ready for. So that means sometimes I abandon the whole thing and just work on H… or Sh… or Ch… or F… of S… in whatever position is working for the client.

FYI, I began to reorganize my presentation of these phonemes in this way after having read Smith (1973). This book is a detailed month-by-month analysis of one child’s developing phonological system.  Smith studied his own son and found that stridency emerged first at the end of words, particularly after he had learned final T.  I began to apply this idea to my clients and found it to be a much better approach than introducing hissing at the beginnings of words first.

Also, I heard Barbara Hodson speak in 2006, and she said the same thing.  She said that if a child cannot get initial S, we should abandon it, go to final S-clusters, and then to final S. And eventually we should return to initial S.


  • Hodson, B. W. (2006) Enhancing Phonological Skills and Metaphonological Skills of Children with Highly Unintelligible Speech. Seminar Handbook. Bellevue, WA: Belay Learning. March 17.
  • Smith, N. V. (1973) The Acquisition of Phonology: A Case Study. London: Cambridge.

0 thoughts on “Stopping Stopping (Organizing the “Hissing Sounds”)”

  1. Thank you for this conversation thread – I was just going to ask you a similar question. I am working with a 4 yo (repaired cleft palate/lip) who seems to either add a /t/ or just a breath/pause before saying a final word-position “hissing” sound. I wondered about what order to work on sounds. She can produce sounds in isolation.

    1. Whenever a client places a stop in front of a strident consonant they are wearing a sign that says, “I cannot keep my airflow going when I transition from a non-strident sound (the vowel) to a strident sound. I must stop the airflow in order to begin stridency.”

      Thus, airflow is the issue. The clients says, for example, “buts” for “bus” because he cannot turn stridency on without stopping airflow.
      Teach him to “Keep the air going” and “Don’t stop the air.”

      I also use this as an opportunity to switch to final strident clusters– ps, ts, ks.
      And then I go to initial S-clusters– sp, st, sk, sm, sn, sl, sw…
      And then I return to the final stridents later.

      Another way to do this is to switch to final Ch and J which both are produced with a stop and strident together (affricate).

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