Some students cannot speak in the way others do, but still want to have fun with their peers, especially on the playground.
Students at Arlington Elementary School who use voice output communication devices now have a low-tech version of their board to use outside on the playground. The board was an effort started by APS speech and language pathologist Debra Washburn.
“I had a chance to pre-teach how to use the sign in my room,” Washburn said. “I got a thank you hug from one of the kids.”
Washburn submitted the plans and budget to the Arlington PTO, which was supportive and underwrote the cost of the signs as well as the posts they are mounted on. On the opposite side of the communication board is a sign that says Arlington Elementary and faces the parking lot.
“The students’ communication devices are somewhat fragile so they don’t take them out to recess,” Washburn said. “When a device needs to be repaired, students can be without it for weeks while the device is repaired.”
Washburn said not having the device limits these students opportunities to plan what they want to play, invite friends to join them, negotiate turn taking and alert supervisors when they need help.
The communication board has a series of boxes with words and pictures that reflect key things the non-verbal students may like to express, including a wish to swing or play ball with another classmate.
The student points to the square with the picture and then his or her classmates can know what they want. The top left square of the board says “I want” and a combination of words and pictures give several options, including playing ball, swinging, climbing or playing tag. There are things specific to the school’s playground, including playing gaga ball. If a student needs help or is injured, they can point to a specific square. There’s even a square for requesting to go inside to use the restroom.
Washburn said she hopes in time it will turn into a way for students to negotiate what they prefer. If one student wants to play ball but the other wants to swing they can show that.
Washburn said Lawrence Reed, director of buildings and grounds, and some students of the Arlington SkillsUSA group set the posts and hung the signs before winter break.
“The students were really excited to see the communication board installed and enjoy using it to make their recess time more interactive and fun,” Washburn said.
The PTO saw this communications board as a way for a better opportunity for non-verbal or low-verbal students to interact with staff and students in a way they are accustomed to, according to Jennifer Arp, PTO president.
“The PTO is always willing to help out with needs for the students and the staff at the elementary school, especially when it comes to providing necessary equipment to better our environment for all students at the school,” Arp said.
“We hoped that they can express their feelings, wants, and needs to others in an easier, less time-consuming fashion, especially when they are in an outside environment that they may not be able to have their communication device with them,” Arp said. “A majority of our students are very good at interacting with all of their peers at school, (but) sometimes there is a downfall of communication with specific individuals and (this is) providing them with the resources needed to communicate.”