A lisp is a common term for a speech impediment, or articulation disorder, called sigmatism. When this condition is present, a person might pronounce S sounds with a "th" sound instead. Though a lisp is usually caused by incorrect tongue placement in early childhood, according to SLDQ.org, other factors can cause a lisp to develop in older children. Fortunately, speech impediments are treatable.
Causes of Lisps in Older Children
Many children speak with a lisp when they are young and grow out of it by age 7, according to BabyCenter.com. However, an older child might develop a lisp if other health conditions are present. A traumatic injury can instantly change a child's ability to communicate. Also, a cold, allergy or sinus problem can inhibit your child's speech. Other times, the cause might not be so obvious; some children with a hearing impairment or autism can develop lisps.
Treating a Lisp at Home
Although it's best to get your doctor's take on why your child is lisping, you can try a few possible remedies at home. First, treat any colds or allergies your child might have by helping to clear up his nasal passages. Next, if your child is a thumb-sucker, still uses a pacifier or drinks out of a cup with a sippy-style lid, encourage alternatives. Blowing bubbles and blowing into a party horn can also help re-train your child to form his mouth correctly to make S sounds.
What a Doctor Can Do
A doctor or dentist can help if your child's sudden lisp is caused by a physical problem, such as dental trauma from an accident or the loss of a tooth. SLDQ.org recommends taking your child in to see a doctor as soon as you notice a problem, because responding early yields the best results in children. A specialist will help determine whether your child needs surgery or whether he might only need speech therapy with a speech-language pathologist.
Absent any underlying medical problem, your child might be able to be trained out of speaking with a lisp by working with a speech-language pathologist. According to KidsHealth, the therapist will provide a speech test requiring your child to say a variety of words. She will coach your child on how to shape her mouth to make proper sounds and ask him to repeat them back to her, sometimes using mirrors or games to make the experience fun. A therapist might also be able to refer you to support groups so your child can meet other kids with similar struggles.