A first in Canada: Playground communication boards for Montreal elementary school students with autism
For children on the autism spectrum, verbal communication can sometimes be difficult.
To help children communicate their feelings and needs at recess, the Lester B. Pearson School Board is installing communication stations in the playgrounds of all of its elementary schools -- a first in Canada.
Each board has pictures showing facial expressions, gestures, symbols, and words in English and French.
"Students can point to the pictures, they can use the words on the pictures, in order to request, to ask for help, to make a comment, to be silly, to describe," said Alyssa Ohberg, a speech and language pathologist with the school board.
Smaller versions of the tool are already used in classrooms, but the outdoor stations mean children can leave their communications devices behind during recess.
"It's something they use on a regular basis," said Katie Cohene, an autism consultant. "What's new is the onus isn't all on them. We're putting them in the environment; we're making those modifications so they don't need to be responsible for carrying them around with them, while they're carrying a skipping rope or a ball and playing with their friends."
The school board is sharing the prototype and its experience with the communication stations with other English-language school boards throughout Quebec, and there are plans to install them in some municipal parks.
The idea is low-tech, but those working with children with autism say it helps make the playground a more inclusive space.
They also say it can be a helpful tool for any student, and the hope is it will help reduce stigma.
"It's accessible for all the students to use it," said Ohberg, "and it makes it something that's just part of our playground. It's something anybody can use, and anybody can refer to, anybody can point to."