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Learning to Love Your Lisp: Life Lessons From My Five Year Old

My five year-old daughter has a lisp. Not an in-your-face, over-the-top Sylvester the Cat “Suffering Succotash'” sort of thing. But a...

My five year-old daughter has a lisp.

Not an in-your-face, over-the-top Sylvester the Cat “Suffering Succotash'” sort of thing. But a fairly straight forward, middle-of-the-road inter-dental lisp.

Last Fall, we took her to see a speech therapist to work on it. And even though I knew that the therapy would prove helpful, I secretly dreaded going. In my mind, you see, the lisp was a stigma. It was something that set her apart from the other kids and made her more difficult to understand. And so I approached the topic of speech therapy with her very delicately, afraid that she’d be ashamed to tell her friends at school why she needed to leave early every Monday afternoon.

Boy was I off base.

Not only did my daughter love going to speech therapy every week, it became a tremendous source of pride for her. She loved having a challenge that she could clearly identify and then – with a bit of elbow grease – overcome. She poured over the exercises the speech therapist sent home. As the weeks wore on, she mastered “ch” then “sh” then “zh” then “j.” And while we never quite fully nailed the “s,” the therapist is confident that with the progress she’s shown so far, if we wait a little while and come back to it, she’ll master that as well.

So we put it aside, a bit wiser for the wear.

Fast forward to this summer when we watched not one, but two movies back to back in which a major character has a lisp. The first was The Music Man, a film whose praises I believe I’ve sung before. In this movie, the character of Winthrop – played by a very young Ron Howard (of Opie and then Richie and now Famous Director fame) – is so stymied by his own lisp that he barely speaks to anyone outside his family. (Take a look at Howard and co-star Robert Preston singing  Gary, Indiana.) My daughter was so taken with this film that she began requesting that I sing “Wells Fargo Wagon” every night before she went to bed, just so she could sing the part where Winthrop lisps.

Then we went to see Night At The Museum:  Battle At The Smithsonian. Here, one of the lead adult characters – Kamunrah (played by a hysterically funny Hank Azaria) – has a lisp. This really caught my daughter’s attention. Half way through the movie she leaned over and whispered: “He’s a grown up and he has a lisp!” Following her lead (because I’d learned a thing or two by now), I answered, “Yes, he does! Lots of grown ups have lisps.” She was positively enchanted. The next morning she took out all of her “s” work from her speech therapy folder and insisted that we begin working on it again.

This experience was instructive for me on so many levels. First, it reminded me that – as with so many things – we end up learning so much more from our children than they do from us. For me, the lisp was a weakness to conceal. For her, it became a source of empowerment.

Second, it also reminded me that one of the hardest things to learn as a parent is how not to burden your children with your own issues.

Finally, I got to re-memorize the lyrics to “Wells Fargo Wagon.” Imagine my delight!


Sorry, folks, it’s been a short work-week so my Friday pix will have to wait. If you want to catch up on my “must reads,” head on over to Twitter, where I tweet them all week long at:

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Image: Wells, Fargo Wagon by ViperWD via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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  1. Mara Paredes July 25, 2009 at 6:30 pm #


    tell Allie not to worry about!, Iñigo had something similar at the same age, more or less: he couldn’t pronounce double r “rr”, but with the same perseverance she has shown, he exceeded all of it and now he pronounces “perro”, “carro”, “barro”, etc. quite well. :)

  2. Kathy | Virtual Impax July 27, 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    I love how your daughter is viewing this as a challenge – a game to win so to speak! Outstanding!!! What a great commentary on her character!!

    By the way, there’s a local attorney who speaks with an in-your-face, over-the-top Sylvester the Cat “Suffering Succotash’” kid of a lisp who does his own radio ads. While I was horrified, I’ve heard from several people that out of the sea of attorneys who are aggressively advertising these days – this guy’s ads stand apart.

    Turns out – being different isn’t always a BAD thing!

    Makes me wonder if it was wise for me to put my oldest through speech therapy now. He’s 19 and toying with being a lawyer – and maybe that lisp would have served him well! :)

  3. delialloyd July 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    yes the interesting thing to me is how many adults have them and how it’s no big deal. the whole thing has been such a learning experience for all of us-thanks for stopping by, kathy!

  4. Lisp Speech October 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

    How’s the progress of your daughter coming along Delia?

    • delialloyd October 4, 2009 at 9:50 pm #

      well, thanks. she still lisps but she’s very aware of it and I think we’ll work on it again this year or next.

  5. Marcus Little October 13, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    As a Speech Language Pathologist I realy loved your story. Thank-You for sharing that. It is quite common that I will meet with parents prior to providing therapy to their children in the school system and they have similar concerns to yours. They are afraid of a stigma developing or that their child will be teased at school. The reality I see daily in my experiences is that the kids leaving the room to work with me feel “special” and quite often I have to deal with a room full of smiling faces wondering when they get a turn with me. Teasing in younger kids happens very rarely. It is not until the intermediate grades that the kids will notice a child who speaks differently.

    I have included a link to a video I did for developing the /s/ sound. It is a good starting point for anyone dealing with a lisp.


    • delialloyd October 13, 2009 at 9:47 am #

      thank you marcus. I will definitely have a look at your video. glad to hear that this is all very common. she still asks if she’ll go back and do ‘speech work” someday and seems to look forward to that event!

  6. Lisp Speech November 30, 2009 at 10:57 am #

    Me again Delia, I check “notify me on follow-up” but I never got an email when you replied back :(

    That’s a great resource by Marcus. The information is gold!

    • delialloyd November 30, 2009 at 1:48 pm #

      yes, thank you. we are letting this one lie for a while but will check back in on all this in another 6 months or so. Thx for visiting again!


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