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Straw Technique for Lateral Lisp

A Guide to Using the Straw Technique for Correcting a Lateral Lisp in Speech Therapy

The straw technique can be an effective way to treat a lateral lisp in speech therapy. Many SLPs have probably heard about using a straw to treat a lateral lisp, but there are definitely some steps you can take to make this successful. If done correctly, this technique can be really useful for eliciting s and z sounds, but if certain things are not considered when trying this approach, you might get frustrated and give up.

So, I wanted to share the steps you can take to utilize the straw technique in speech therapy in order to correct a lateral lisp. This approach was first explained by Vikki Usdan in 1976 in her article titled “Utilization of the ‘Straw Technique’ for Correction of a Lateral Lisp”. That article is available on ASHA’s website, and I highly recommend reading it- it’s only 3 pages long and a very quick, easy-to-understand article. 

This straw technique for a lateral lisp post is organized as follows:

1. Straw Technique Success Step 1: Identifying “Home” with Tongue Tip

2. Straw Technique Success Step 2: Gathering Needed Materials 

3. Straw Technique Success Step 3: Reducing Lateralized Airflow

The Straw Technique for a Lateral Lisp

Straw Technique Success Step 1: Identifying “Home” with Tongue Tip

Tongue Tip Finds Alveolar Ridge

Your student needs to have an understanding of parts of the tongue and mouth for this to work. Specifically, I make sure my student can identify the tongue tip and the alveolar ridge. We call the alveolar ridge “home”. While we’re addressing this topic, I explain the normal resting position of the tongue (aka normal resting posture). This is the very first thing I always teach when I am correcting a lisp. Basically, when the student is NOT talking, his tongue tip, or the front part of the tongue, should be resting at “home”- on the alveolar ridge- NOT against the back part of the teeth, or through the teeth. Additionally, the mouth should be closed so nasal breathing can occur. I actually make this a homework activity for my students, and I constantly drill them on the normal resting position of the tongue. “Is your tongue at home?” I will ask them when we are playing a game, etc. I also send home worksheets (available in my Correct that Lisp resource on TpT) to help encourage normal resting posture, which is essential because it is the starting point for speech. When your student can identify the alveolar ridge, or home, with the tip of his tongue, he is ready for the next step. 

Straw Technique Success Step 2: Gathering Needed Materials

The 3 MUST-HAVE Materials to Make the Straw Technique Work in Speech Therapy

I’m sure you know that you will need a straw to use the straw technique, but not just any straw will work. In fact, most straws won’t work- like the straws you get at a drive-thru, for example. Those will simply be too big. You need a very thin straw- like a coffee stirrer straw. Remember, to say the s sound, you need a very narrow stream of air. In addition to the thin straw, you will also need a short, clear cup. And finally, the last material you will need: water. This is the coolest part about the whole experiment. Adding water in the cup is what makes this so successful, because the bubbles provide the visual your student needs in order to “see” that the airflow is not lateralized, and instead being directed in a forward direction.

So, to recap, you will need these 3 items in order to try the straw technique with your student:

  1. A very thin straw, like a coffee stirrer straw
  2. A short, clear cup 
  3. Water

Straw Technique Success Step 3: Reducing Lateralized Airflow

Correcting the Lateral Lisp with a Straw

Finally, you are ready to try the straw technique! First, your student will find “home” with the tongue tip, as they already attempted in step one. You will fill the cup with water, about halfway, then give them the coffee stirrer. They will hold the straw to the alveolar ridge using the tip of their tongue. The goal would be to blow air through the straw in a straight, forward manner- if this happens, they will see bubbles. If it doesn’t happen (if the airflow is lateralized and directed into the cheeks), they won’t see bubbles. It might sound straightforward, but I can promise it will not be simple. This task takes quite a bit of concentration and putting pieces together. My students tend to try to compensate at first by closing their lips in order to blow bubbles. Of course, this defeats the purpose of the straw exercise, so I draw their attention to this right away, and place a mirror in front of them. I remember them once again that they must hold the straw to the alveolar ridge with their tongue tip, and they have to keep the lips open and apart. We keep the lips in a smile to help with this. 

The idea is that you will eventually cut the straw, then fade it completely, when your student understands how to direct the airflow straight and not lateralize it.

Final thoughts on the Straw Technique for a Lateral Lisp

So these are the top 3 steps you must take to make the straw technique successful in order to correct a lateral lisp. I have found that this method can be a wonderful way to draw attention to the fact that your student can control the direction of the airflow when attempting to say the s and z sounds. If you use a straw that is too big, if your student does not understand the normal resting position of the tongue, if you try to rush things, or skip adding the water, you will not find this approach to be very successful. If you are interested in checking out a very detailed resource to help you treat a lisp, be sure to check out my lisp resource on TpT. It is unique because it is based on the foundational principles of orofacial myology, and will be a game-changer for you when the traditional articulation method isn’t successful.

Related Lisp Articles

  1. The Biggest Mistake I Made in Speech Therapy When Correcting a Lisp
  2. Lisp and Vocalic R: How To Correct These in Speech Therapy
  3. Correcting Lateralized Sounds: Articulation Tips for S and Z

Reference: Utilization of the “Straw Technique “ for Correction of a Lateral Lisp, Vikki Usdan, 1976

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