Speech therapy is the treatment of disorders that adversely affect a person’s speech, or voice. It is generally undertaken by speech language pathologists in the United States and Canada, but who are called speech pathologists, speech and language therapists, or similar terms elsewhere. In the United States, speech language pathologists treat broader communication issues, as well as problems with swallowing, besides treating speech disorders. Speech therapy can assist people of nearly any age, but child speech therapy is limited to assisting children.
Examples of conditions for which child speech therapy is helpful include specific sound problems, such as lisps. Physical problems that result in speech issues, such as cleft palate or cleft lip are addressed with surgical procedures as well as speech therapy, Hearing impairments, and voice disorders that affect articulation, fluency, intonation, or other aspects of speech are also treated with child speech therapy.
Lisps in children generally require only a short period of speech therapy. There are at least four types of lisp, each giving a slightly different pronunciation of the sound /s/ or /s/ and /z/. They are dentalized, in which the tip of the tongue touches the back of the front teeth, interdental, in which the tongue’s tip protrudes between the top and bottom front teeth, lateral, in which air is misdirected laterally around the sides of the tongue, and palatal, in which the sound is produced with the tongue against the palate. If there is some physical or psychological problem that is prompting the lisp, then this will be identified and addressed.
In therapy for a lisp, the child characteristically learns to say the sound or sounds correctly in isolation. After this is practiced, the child learns to use the sound or sounds in the context of shorter and then longer settings, and then in spontaneous speech. If the child’s name contains the sound, this may be practiced specifically to help the child avoid embarrassment.
Child speech therapy is delivered in different ways. A child who is not yet in school may be treated at home or at a clinic. If the child is in school, a speech therapist on the school staff may provide screening and treatment for all students, as necessary. With a physical problem like cleft palate, in which the treatment may unfold over a long period and surgery is necessary, speech therapy may be ongoing, and some of it may be delivered in the hospital where the child is being treated.