Perceptual Therapy


Speech Assessment and Interactive Learning System (SAILS)

The Speech Assessment and Interactive Learning System (SAILS) is a computer based tool that can be used to improve children’s speech perception skills.

SAILS targets commonly misarticulated consonant phonemes in the onset (initial) and coda (final) position of words. The program is based on recordings of naturally produced words. These words were recorded from English-speaking adult talkers with accurate speech, child talkers with accurate speech, and child talkers with a speech sound disorder.

The child’s task is to listen to each word and indicate whether it is an exemplar of the target word or not an exemplar of the target word. The child responds by pointing to a picture of the target word or to an ‘X’. Visual feedback is provided  after the child’s response, and there is an option in the software for verbal feedback (good job, etc.).

Typically, the child engages with the SAILS task for 5- to 10-minutes at the beginning or end of each therapy session.

In Rvachew (1994), SAILS was used as part of a traditional speech therapy program in which phonetic placement, modelling, and drill-play activities were used to help children master a single phoneme in syllables, words, and sentences.

In Rvachew, Rafaat & Martin (1999) SAILS was provided for three sessions concurrently with phonetic placement targeting 3 target phonemes, as a prelude to a 9 week course of group phonological therapy using the ‘cycles approach’ (Hodson & Paden, 1983).

In Rvachew, Nowak & Cloutier (2004), the child’s SLP/SLT decided whether to use a traditional or phonological approach depending on her perception of the child’s needs and SAILS was provided after each therapy session.

In these studies, children who received SAILS intervention showed twice as much progress toward the achievement of age appropriate articulation accuracy than children whose intervention programs did not include a speech perception component. Intervention was provided by a communication disorders assistant or undergraduate student research assistant. The children were 4- to 5- years of age with moderate or severe SSD, as determined by a standardized test of articulation accuracy.

Other groups of children are known to have difficulty with speech perception and thus may benefit from the intervention (e.g., older children who have residual distortion errors, second language learners, and children with specific language impairment or dyslexia). However, no studies have investigated the effectiveness of SAILS with these groups. Rvachew has found that children younger than 4;0 have difficulty with the SAILS identification task.

Finally, the program was developed for use with children who speak Canadian English. It would not be appropriate to use it with other dialect and language groups without first developing stimuli that represent the local dialect or language.

Please contact Dr Susan Rvachew if you wish to create new stimuli appropriate to a different dialect or language group. (Adapted from Rvachew, 2009)


Rvachew, S. (2009). Perceptually based interventions. In C. Bowen, Children's speech sound disorders. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 152-155.

Rvachew, S. & Brosseau-Lapré, F. (2010). Speech Perception Intervention. In A. L. Williams, S. McLeod, & R. J. McCauley (Eds.), Interventions for speech sound disorders in children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Rvachew, S., Nowak, M., & Cloutier, G. (2004). Effect of phonemic perception training on the speech production and phonological awareness skills of children with expressive phonological delay. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 13, 250-263.

Rvachew, S., Rafaat, S., & Martin, M. (1999). Stimulability, speech perception and the treatment of phonological disorders. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 8, 33-43.


Developmental Phonological Disorders - Foundations of Clinical Practice - Susan Rvachew, Françoise Brosseau-Lapré