Trinity researchers and Inclusion Ireland have collaborated to bridge the communication gap in playgrounds.
Trinity researchers and Inclusion Ireland have come together to create a unique series of ‘Communication Boards’ in playgrounds across County Meath to assist children with communication difficulties to interact with their peers.
Communication and a means to communicate are essential for people’s physical and mental well-being. For a child, the ability to communicate is vital for their development, health, safety and wellbeing.
Trinity researchers from the School of Psychology and Inclusion Ireland were commissioned by Meath County Council to lead an innovative community outreach initiative to produce bespoke Communication Boards for playgrounds across the county in Summer 2021. The team worked closely with Enda Weldon in Meath County Council and liaised with local HSE Speech therapy services.
A Communication Board is a type of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) providing ready access to core and fringe words. The boards are primarily a communications support, with particular benefit to children and adults who are either pre-verbal or non-verbal and/or have communication difficulties. Communication Boards which include picture representations of day to day words relevant to the setting, , help bridge the communication gap and serve to connect people. They also act as a symbol of inclusion for children and their families and benefit everyone involved in the communication transaction.
A playground embraces play, imagination, creativity, nature and a sense of community and is a prime location to engage elements that are at the core of any child’s development. The playground Communication Boards are designed to assist children in this setting to communicate together with their peers, offering a means to share thoughts, express needs and emotions, to negotiate, to take turns and ask for help.
The design has incorporated an ‘explainer’ in sequenced photographs to illustrate how to use the Communication Board. The idea for the boards in Meath was born from the ‘One Good Idea’ initiative which ran in Summer 2020 by Cllr. Ronan Moore who, in conjunction with Meath County Council, lead by Dara McGowan, secured financial backing for his initiative from Facebook.
The national outlook
Researchers hope to examine the benefits of large scale Communication Boards in the naturalistic setting, across different parts of Ireland and welcome the growing interest as many counties look to replicate. The research team will need resources, and family participation in order to determine the value of such AAC supports across the country.
Dr. Olive Healy, InterAcT, School of Psychology, Trinity College said:
A Communication Board/Display in a setting such as a playground could be accessed by anyone visiting. As a technology it provides instant access and a means to communicate, interact and be included for anyone needing the supports, promoting a culture of belonging within the community. Appreciating diversity in communicating activates social empathy in children and adults and the Communication Board supports this.
Mark O’Connor, Community Engagement Manager, Inclusion Ireland said:
There are many reasons, and many ways, to communicate. In an inclusive world, a multitude of communication options to support and include all members of society is required. The aspiration is to see communication supports everywhere in time, because that would allow for universal participation, whilst raising awareness of communication diversity and education for the public. It offers a conversation starter between children and their parents, hopefully resulting in educating everyone in the importance of communication and that people communicate in many different ways.
Inclusion Ireland is the national organisation for people with an intellectual disability. The InterAcT Accomplish & Thrive Project is an ADAPT Centre collaborator located in the School of Psychology, Trinity College and funded by Enterprise Ireland.