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My 22-month old speaks with a lisp. Granted she's only saying about 100-150 words and can form short sentences. However she can't form all the sounds that adults can yet. However all of her 's' are pronounced like 'the'.

Should I be concerned? Should I try to start correcting her?

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What does your pediatrician say? Some sounds are more difficult than others to pronounce than others, and it takes kids a while to get their mouths to cooperate. My 28-mth-old still says "tr" as "fw" (to hilarious effect). –  Valkyrie Aug 13 '13 at 17:06
    
My daughter said 'left' as 'lept' (and similar) until she was just over three, our pediatrician didn't consider the possibility of a speech problem until the child is at least five, and said it's something almost every single parent of a toddler asks. –  Tim Post Aug 14 '13 at 14:43
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"Ps-kettie" for dinner? Such mispronunciations were common when my kids were toddlers too. If you really want to set your mind at ease, your local (US) school district should provide special education services from birth on, so you should be able to have a speech therapist evaluate her at no cost to you, but you'll probably be told your child is 100% age-appropriate. –  Marc Nov 22 at 16:51

4 Answers 4

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Most speech concerns are not real worries until a child is 5 or 6. If children continue to have a lisp when they begin elementary school they are generally referred to a speech specialist to work on those sounds. As much as a lisp in a toddler is not a concern, children learn language from imitating what they hear. It is never too young to speak clearly and purposefully to your child. I always repeat a mispronounced word to my children with the correct pronunciation. This is used with older children in speech therapy as well. It helps the child hear the difference between what they said and what you said. It is important to do this in a casual manner - understand that the child is learning and possibly not capable of making the sounds yet. It is also a great idea to have your child watch your mouth so see how your mouth is shaped and moves as you pronounce words and sounds. This may help you child improve, but it may just be due to am immaturity of the muscle formation and will simply take time.

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Most mispronunciations are not something you can correct by telling the child they are saying it wrongly. One of my children had a persistent use of the n sound where l belongs (eg eating nunch) and I kept asking my doctor who kept saying n is one of the last sounds for children to get right. I kept countering that if my child was saying "wunch" like the other agemates I would calm down, but this was an entirely different thing. I was reasonably worked up about it, and then at whatever late age they are supposed to get l right, the problem disappeared.

Lisps are super common in toddlers - that's why people imitating baby talk use them, along with "I wuv woo mommy" and the like. Relax, understand her, cause her to believe she can get her thoughts across to you, and don't worry that it needs correcting until you get to the age where it is supposed to be correct. By then it almost certainly will be, and if it is not then she will be old enough to understand whatever you need to explain to her as part of correcting it.

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Chrys - I was trying to show her how to form her mouth and how to place her teeth to make the "s" sound. It's funny that she continues to stick her tongue between her teeth and makes the 'th' sound. –  milesmeow Aug 16 '13 at 4:56

As a mother and speech-language pathologist, I understand the concerns of speech and language development. Some general information to know is each sound of our language has a different range of ages in which your child should correctly produce the sound. By age 8, your child should be able to produce all sounds of the English language, unless second language learner. Your child’s production errors are considered disordered when they continue to misarticulate sounds past the age at which most of his or her peers use the phoneme correctly. Since your child is only 2, I would take a wait and see stance, since the age of development for the production of the phoneme /s/ is between 3 to 8 years of age. When you are playing with your child you could playfully say some words similar to their current errors and playfully say “uh I said that the old way I need to say that the new way” then self correct. I would avoid terms like right and wrong to avoid a negative association with their speech.

Good luck!

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When raising our baby, the changing table was one good place for practicing sound mimicry. I would make a sound, and she would try to imitate. We started with vowel sounds, then work on consonant sounds. Each time she figured out how to form her lips, teeth and tongue to make the sound correctly, I would respond with excitement and laughter. She loved it, and was happy with each success. Each correctly made sound was rewarded with happiness, and incorrect or improperly formed sounds just met a little more practice, and we practiced until she figured it out. I would work slowly with her on the sounds that were more challenging, and exaggerate while she watched, to let her know the approximate teeth and tongue positions for each sound.

Incorrect speech habits, once learned, are more difficult to break than getting it right in the beginning. The longer a child mispronounces words, the more challenging it will be to change that habit. Muscle memory becomes reinforced over time, making it more difficult for the person with a mispronunciation problem to change their pronunciation habit.

Some languages do not use certain sounds, and by the time one reaches adulthood, learning a different language that uses a new sound often forces a substitution mispronunciation because the person's mouth is not accustomed to making the sound required in that new language. For example, people who speak Japanese as their first language, if learning English as an adult, will have had decades of not pronouncing the letter L, So for them, pronouncing the letter L is very unfamiliar territory, and many are unable to train their tongue and lips to make the sound, so instead use a substitute sound.

The simplest solution to correcting the lisp is to never let it get started as a substitute sound! Working with your infant to mimic sounds, and reward with joyous approval when they mimic your sounds correctly is an excellent way to build their enunciation skills from the beginning. Start with vowel sounds, then as they get them right and make you laugh and giggle, work your way through consonants, always making it a fun game, just a few sounds at a time, until they develop fluency with them all. Next, show them alphabet letters or pictures of animals or objects whose names use those sounds. That will give them the proper building blocks for forming words, plus a visual association so they remember them. But to let a lisp go uncorrected in the beginning, to not pay attention and provide involved guidance through nurture and parental practice at the very beginning of a child's efforts to communicate with speech, well, you do the child a disservice. Ignoring the incorrectly made sound is tacit approval that it is OK, and the child will continue, until it is harder and harder to correct. As with many things in life, the longer a bad habit is postponed, the more difficult it is to change, to correct.

All of this assumes that there are no physical abnormalities that need to be addressed medically. A lisp is almost always just an incorrect speech habit learned early and left unaddressed until much later.

It is a parent's responsibility to give their children the tools in life they will need in order to be successful, to thrive, and it is a parent's responsibility to teach them the best they can how to properly use those tools. Think of a child picking up a screwdriver, or a fork, or a spoon by the wrong end, but is not taught from the very beginning how to properly hold it. Speech, although more complex than a screwdriver fork or spoon, is just one more tool we must be taught how to use well in order to get where we want to go in life.

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This is good advice but my child has already passed that stage so I voted this answer down. –  milesmeow Nov 22 at 15:01
    
Because it is good advice and was not voted down for good reason, I have voted up. –  Jeremy Miller Nov 23 at 5:02

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