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May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. It is the month for awareness of children who communicate differently. Three Rowlett residents, a mom and her two kids, are breaking communication barriers for children in their hometown. It is not everyday that a school playground gets a communication board donated. The story gets even better when you hear that two of the youngest donors previously attended the preschool program for children with disabilities at that school: Victor and Alice. Their mother, Barbara Fernandes, a speech-language pathologist, designed the picture symbols and the communication board itself.
A communication board is a piece of equipment with a specific arrangement of picture symbols that assist with non-verbal communication by pointing to the pictures. Children who don’t speak through the use of speech or who have limited speech can use the communication board as a form of communication to express their needs in the playground. The communication board was donated to Liberty Grove Elementary school in Rowlett, Texas. Liberty Grove is one of the schools within the Garland Independent School Districts that currently has three self-contained classrooms with students from preschool to 5th grade.
Both Victor and Alice attended Liberty Grove at the age of three and were excited about going back to their first school to donate the communication board. The communication board they donated will be used by students to communicate with teachers and their peers for years to come.
Mrs. Fernandes has been a big advocate for the integration of communication boards throughout the city of Rowlett since 2020. She has successfully advocated for a communication board to be placed in one of the largest parks in Rowlett, Kids Kingdom. She is currently advocating for communication boards to be implemented in all playgrounds around the city and is looking for other community advocates to join this initiative.
“Children have the right to communicate everywhere. It is up to all of us to increase the opportunities for children who require the use of picture symbols to communicate. We can do this by implementing communication boards in public places such as parks, playgrounds, splash pads, waterparks, museums and pretty much everywhere.” Says Barbara Fernandes
The communication board was installed by the school Principal Mrs. Bottoms, the special education teacher Mrs.Lewis, and the school’s speech-language pathologist Mrs.Lilly. This board is special because it was customized specifically to this school, it included the school name, the school color (green) and the specific vocabulary items needed for that playground. Given the fact that 33.2% of the students at Garland are bilingual, the communication board included text in both English and Spanish.
“The board helps students that have difficulty communicating communicate. With a visual in front of them, they can communicate to their teachers and other students by just touching or pointing to the picture of what they are feeling or trying to say. Pictures paired with language helps reinforce to the student their overall ability to communicate with others and helps to make them feel successful”. Patsy Lewis, Special Education Teacher at Liberty Grove Elementary School
A company called Smarty Symbols has launched a new initiative to create custom communication boards for schools and city parks around the country. Communication Boards can be ordered and will ship directly to the school or city without the hassle of licensing the picture symbols from symbol designers, hiring a designer, or manufacturing the board. Their goal is to take away all the hassle associated with this process and deliver a high-quality and durable product created by experts.
Thanks to the generosity, dedication and thoughtfulness of parents like Mrs.Fernandes, children attending Liberty Grove elementary school will always have access to a communication board during recess.