Town Unites To Help Nonverbal Communicators Thrive

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    A Woodland Elementary student uses the communication tool to express himself to Special Education teacher Renee Rust while at recess. (Photo courtesy of Hicksville Public Schools)

    It can be easy for us to take verbal communication for granted. While a child rolling around on the floor screaming “NO!” when you take away the iPad maybe is not the most welcome audio, we might forget that there are children who are unable to communicate their needs in this way — to adults or one another. Children who struggle with verbal communication — or do not communicate verbally at all — often experience social challenges with their peers. It can be difficult to find a way to understand one another, and may even encourage verbal children not to bother communicating with their nonverbal counterparts. Thankfully, many towns are making the effort to bridge this gap.

    As part of the Town of Oyster Bay’s commitment to promoting inclusivity, Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino and the Town Board are partnering with Rocco’s Voice for Autism to unveil inclusive play communication boards in various town parks. These communication boards are designed to empower children with autism in their play experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and community while also helping children with autism develop their communication and social interaction skills.

    The communication boards feature symbols and images that facilitate non-verbal communication, enabling children with autism to express themselves more easily. This initiative aligns with Rocco’s Voice for Autism’s commitment to advocating for accessible and inclusive spaces for individuals with autism.

    Members of Woodland Elementary School in Hicksville surround the newly installed Communication Board. (Photo courtesy of Hicksville Public Schools)

    “Rocco’s Voice for Autism is a truly inspiring organization working to ensure every child feels welcomed and included,” Supervisor Saladino said. “The Town Board and I share this mission, which is why we’re working to install play communication boards in our town parks. Communication boards create a universal language for all children to play together — regardless of ability — and we welcome this opportunity to foster an understanding and compassionate environment.”

    Boards are being installed at the following Town facilities thanks to the generosity of the Warner Fund:

    Town parks are about to be a lot more inclusive! (Photo credit: Rocco’s Voice on Facebook)

    Burns Park – Massapequa
    Allen Park – Farmingdale
    Marjorie Post Park – Massapequa
    Syosset Woodbury Park – Syosset
    TOBAY Spray Park – TOBAY Beach
    TOBAY Marina – TOBAY Beach
    Plainview Old Bethpage Park – Plainview
    Theodore Roosevelt Park – Oyster Bay
    Florence Avenue Beach – Massapequa
    Haypath Park – Plainview
    Borella Field – Bethpage
    Tappen Beach – Glen Head
    Plainedge Park – Massapequa
    Field of Dreams – Massapequa

    “We are excited about the positive impact these communication boards will have on the lives of children with autism in our community,” said Councilman Steve Labriola. “This partnership exemplifies our dedication to creating an inclusive environment where every child can thrive, and we thank Rocco’s Voice for Autism for their continued dedication to this important cause.”

    Councilman Lou Imbroto excitedly announced the project on his Facebook page. “Check out our new play communication boards, designed to empower children with autism at playgrounds throughout the Town of Oyster Bay,” he wrote. “Together with Rocco’s Voice, we’re working to ensure every child feels welcomed and included.”

    An installed communication board at Massapequa’s Burns Park. (Photo credit: Rocco’s Voice on Facebook)

    Councilwoman Laura Maier is also excited for the additions to Town Parks. “Play communication boards are on their way to playgrounds throughout the Town of Oyster Bay. These communication boards are designed to empower children with autism in their play experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and community while also helping children with autism develop their communication and social interaction skills. Thanks to Rocco’s Voice for partnering with us to make this a reality.”

    Some local schools are joining in on efforts to engage nonverbal children. Hicksville’s own Woodland Elementary School recently installed a board on their playground. They hope this outdoor communication tool enables students to express their wants and needs and aids in integrating all students into the general education population.

    The development of this board was a collaborative effort between administration, staff, and parents to benefit students in the school’s 6:1:2 program. The 6:1:2 program fosters the development of independence in social, emotional, behavioral, academic and vocational skills to address each student’s unique needs.

    The funds raised for this project were the result of The Wake-Up Woodland Breakfast Cart run by students on Fridays during the 2022-2023 school year. The students ran the cart with the prompting and support from teachers and staff to raise the $500 needed to cover the cost of the Communication Board. An additional benefit of The Wake-Up Woodland Breakfast Cart was that it provided students with a unique platform for social interaction with members of the school community.

    —Original press releases provided by the Town of Oyster Bay, and Hicksville Public Schools

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    Lauren Feldman is the Editor of the Nassau Observer. She is a Long Island native, who received an MA in Media and International Development from the University of East Anglia.

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