Communication boards coming to playgrounds to support kids with speech challenges

Marblehead mom Jen Montenario is excited about a new addition coming to five playgrounds later this month — and it’s not a slide or swing set. The Power of Speech, Marblehead Family Fund and Rec & Parks Department are installing communication boards to support children who may struggle with language skills.

“We’re so excited,” said Montenario, whose two-year-old son Lorenzo has a speech delay known as Gestalt language processing. “These communication boards will help so many kids with speech delays, or if they’re not verbal.”

Jessica Brown, a speech and language pathologist who owns Power of Speech, is behind the communication boards. She designed them and is working with the Marblehead Family Fund and the Rec & Parks to fund and install them at Hobbs, Stramski’s, Devereux, Bud Orne and Gatchell’s playgrounds. 

Communication boards, similar to this one, will be going up soon at five Marblehead playgrounds. COURTESY PHOTO

The aluminum boards are five feet long by three feet tall.

“They’re very colorful,” Brown said. “There are different pictures that are color-coded based on current research — verbs are green, pronouns are yellow. There’s a slide, a swing, words like stop and go, happy and sad. Children can point to the pictures to express how they feel and what they need. It’s that simple.

“We know that pointing to pictures fosters speech and language skills, spoken speech,” she added.

Brown also hopes the communication boards will “spread awareness and acceptance for  neurodiversity and inclusivity, and make children feel more comfortable being their authentic selves.”

According to Harvard Medical School, neurodiversity “describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”

About 15-20% of Americans are neurodivergent, according to different studies.

Montenario said her son will love the communication boards at playgrounds. He uses an alternative and augmentative communication device (that looks like an iPad) to help him identify words and speak them.

“He’s happy and thriving and making immense progress,” she said.

To learn more about neurodiversity and communication boards, Brown encourages people to join the Marblehead Neurodivergent Support Group on Facebook.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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