HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (PIX11) — April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, and on Wednesday at Blydenburgh County Park in Hauppauge, Suffolk County officials unveiled a new communication board in the playground picnic area.
The board uses pictures and other icons that allow those who are nonverbal to communicate. By pointing to the images, visitors can communicate to whoever brought them to the park by letting them know if they’re tired, thirsty or need to use the bathroom.
It’s the first board in a Suffolk County park and is a visual representation of language with different symbols and images.
Deirdre Rubino is a speech language pathologist who helped get it installed.
“The keys and the pictures are placed specifically to formulate sentences and they’re color-coded based on specific keys so that they can remember them,” Rubino said.
It’s based on different parts of speech and motor memory.
Jason Harris, who has autism, helped unveil the board. He said the board is “awesome” because it allows people with autism to communicate in a different way.
“Remember,” he said, “autism is a different ability, not a disability.”
His mother, Deb Thivierge, who is the CEO of the ELIJA Foundation, said being the parent of a child with autism can be isolating.
“One of the most important things as a parent is you want to be accepted, so step one is being accepted,” Thivierge said. “Walking into this park and seeing a communication board lets me feel, as a parent and as a family member, accepted into the community.”
The board stands as a symbol of acceptance and allows the individuals to express their thoughts and feelings in a different way while feeling they belong with the other kids on the playground. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said it makes the park inclusive.
“We are working to make sure that all of those individuals are able to be their best selves to reach their potential and to be fully participating and contributing to our community,” Bellone said.
Suffolk County officials said although this is the first communication board installed at a county park, it will not be the last. They plan on installing more throughout the county.