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Here's an App to Help with Speech Perception Skills Before Articulation in Speech Therapy

Updated: May 8

The SAILS app is a great tool to assess and improve our students' ability to perceive target phonemes in articulation therapy

Is it just me or does every articulation therapy case feel totally unique? Each student comes with their own set of needs and variables around so many factors, including:

  • their age and related developmental expectations

  • their own understanding or perception of their speech sound disorder (SSD)

  • the severity of their SSD

  • their cultural and linguistic background

  • their level of frustration and problem-solving abilities when they are not understood when speaking to others

  • the presence (or absence) of embarrassment or shame about their SSD

  • their history and perceived experience of working with other speech therapists

  • their family's, friends', and teachers' perceptions and responses to their SSD

  • the level of involvement of their phonological or motor system

  • their stimulability for target sounds

  • their susceptibility to present or future difficulties with literacy....

As you well know, I could go on and on.

So it's not unusual that I have this feeling of "what's the best way to do this this time?" when I get a new student, whether it's around choosing the best approach (Traditional Van Riper? Minimal, maximal, or multiple oppositions? Cycles? My own hybrid version of a few of these approaches?), getting them to open up and feel safe to try new skills with me, finding out about their interests and activities that motivate them, ways to elicit their target sounds, or just where, exactly, to begin!

An important initial step before working on articulation/speech sound production in speech therapy

One factor we need to examine, regardless of the approach we choose, is our students' ability to perceive the sounds we need them to learn to say. For some of our kids with SSDs, their phonological systems may be well-developed and their speech errors stem from an oral motor issue. But for many, there is something up with their phonological processing, which is a broad set of auditory skills needed to quickly and correctly perceive, remember, and produce different speech sounds. To learn more about phonological processing (and its different components including phonological and phonemic awareness), see this blog post.

It is entirely possible that our students don't yet have a very solid ability to perceive their target sound(s), and to identify correct and incorrect productions of them. And, indeed, any evidence-based treatment plan for SSDs includes the establishment of this skill as an initial step.

Up until now, I've created my own mélange of homemade activities to informally assess my students' abilities to perceive and identify their target sounds, including: having them listen to words and state whether they include the target sound; simulating error sounds (this always feels harder than it should!), combined with correct productions, and seeing if my students can distinguish between them; doing picture sorts by initial phonemes; etc. I've also used auditory bombardment or auditory stimulation before starting on production tasks.

But after doing a deep dive for one of my students who is having a really tough time producing /r/, I came across the SAILS app. This app makes this initial step of target speech sound perception much easier and, I would argue, does a better job of zeroing in on my students' phonological perception skills.

How the SAILS app works in speech therapy

The app provides recordings of a specific word for a target phoneme, e.g., "rat" for /r/, in both adult's and children's voices, produced both correctly and incorrectly, and allows you to assess your student's ability to perceive the correctness of these recorded productions, and to help them develop a stronger ability to perceive correct productions. Logic would suggest that strengthening their ability to perceive the target sound will help them to produce it more accurately.

Here's the description of the SAILS app, developed by Susan Rvachew, on the App Store:

"The Speech Assessment and Interactive Learning System (SAILS) is an app-based tool for presenting children with recordings of other children's speech. The recordings represent children's efforts to [produce] difficult sounds, some articulated correctly, some misarticulated. The child's task is to determine if each auditory stimulus is a correctly articulated variant of the target word. Four published studies have shown that a child's rate of progress in speech therapy will be double the usual rate if the program is included as part of a typical speech therapy program."

She adds: "SAILS is available in North American English (8 speech sounds can be tested and trained across 21 modules) and Australian English (5 speech sounds can be tested and trained across 10 modules). You can try SAILS with the CAT module that is free in each language.

One module (GRIS) is available for free in French."

It's free to download, and you can purchase specific target words/sounds you need. In the US, each download cost me $1.99 USD, plus tax.

Rvachew provides a nice description of how to use the app in this blog post.

a child using the SAILS app in speech therapy

How did the SAILS app work?

After trying it with my kiddo who is having such a tough time with /r/, it became very clear that he is not yet able to perceive this sound accurately. So I will back things up a bit and work solely on his perception of this sound for now, before we work more directly on his articulation skills down the road in speech therapy.

I'm happy to have this app in my toolkit and expect to use it a lot in the future.

Have you used the SAILS app? What did you think?


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Have you heard? StoryWhys now offers the Speech and Spell series of resources. I am always trying to tie articulation work and spelling together in my therapy and I've never found any good resources out there to help me do this. So I made my own! Many more speech sounds and spelling rules to come. They'll be 50% off for 48 hrs when new resources are added to the StoryWhys store. Find them here.

Did you know book companions can be among the best speech therapy materials for elementary students? Explore all of the StoryWhys book companions for speech therapy in my store. You'll find comprehensive book companions that target many different language skills or Spotlight Series book companions that focus on one type of skill, all using high-quality, beloved storybooks.

And get your FREE, 71-page book companion for speech therapy on the free download page.


link to the StoryWhys homepage


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