Katie Gandy has an 8-year-old son who is nonverbal and has autism. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Gandy would watch as her son played on the playground with his friends, but struggled to communicate with them. He utilized the assistive technology on his iPad to express his wants and feelings, but the weight of the tablet strapped around his neck didn’t allow him to play like his peers could.
“Kids with autism already kind of stand out,” said Gandy. “So I wanted something that could make him feel more included and feel more like his peers.” That’s when Gandy stumbled upon a picture on Facebook, showing a large communication board in a Michigan school’s playground.
Gandy, who is on the board of directors at the Howard County Autism Society, saw how the communication board would help nonverbal students communicate with their peers and teachers. With images for emotions such as “happy” and “sad” as well as illustrations for objects or activities like “ball” or “slide,” students are more effectively able to express their emotions and what they want to do on the playground.
“This was a dream of mine for him to be able to play on the playground just like other kids,” said Gandy. So, she brought the idea to the board and in late October of 2020, the Howard County Autism Society announced that it would donate communication boards to eight Howard County elementary schools.
In order to decide which schools should receive the donated communication boards, the Howard County Autism Society received a list from Terri Savage, the district’s executive director of special education. This showed which schools had the highest number of students who use assistive technology, and therefore who would benefit the most from the communication boards.
Though students aren’t able to access the boards yet, once the pandemic and public gathering restrictions end, all students will receive a training on how to use the board so that they can help their nonverbal peers. Howard County Autism Society Executive Director Melissa Rosenberg said, “We really feel like the boards have a lot of uses in our community. They’re a tool for inclusivity. It’s about breaking down those barriers for children with disabilities.”
Click here to learn more about Augmentative and Alternative Communication and how people with autism communicate!Whizzco