TRAFALGAR, Ind. — A Trafalgar teenager went from needing speech therapy to creating a board to help children on the playground communicate more effectively.
When Jack Waddle was trying to figure out what he wanted to do for his Eagle Scout Project, a sign came to him.
Karyn Todor, a speech pathologist at Indian Creek Elementary School was looking to bring an Augmentative-Alternative Communication (AAC) board to the elementary school and spoke with a local business to see how much it would potentially cost.
That business is owned by Jack’s mother Amanda. The conversation started a thought process.
“Hey, maybe Jack could help out with this,” Amanda said. “He’s looking for an Eagle project. This might be a good fit.”
A good fit that brought Jack full circle with his academic career.
“I was in speech therapy as a kid and when Mrs. Todor, the speech teacher at the elementary school, approached us with the project, it was something that like I really resonated with and felt a connection to,” Jack said.
So Jack got to work. Figuring out which icons they wanted to use, which pictures, and how they were going to actually build it.
The board has 60 icons on each side. Students point to the pictures and words to say things like “Will you play with me?” or “It is cold?”
Todor says the board is especially helpful for those with complex communication needs.
“We have several students who use voice output systems on iPads to communicate,” Todor said. “Carrying around an iPad at recess isn’t ideal, so Jack’s project allows these students to have easier access to communicating with teachers and friends.”
The USSAAC, an organization dedicated to supporting the needs and rights of people who use AAC, says the symbols used include gestures, hand signals, photographs, pictures, line drawings, words, and letters.
On the board, the images have different colors that have to do with what type of word it is. Pronouns and small function words are orange, while verbs are pink. They are color-coded this way to help kids locate the words they need.
Todor also says the images on the board match up with the systems they use on their electronic AAC devices.
“There’s actually core vocabulary words that are always in the same location on the board, as well as on their iPad,” Todor said. “Those are the words that help kids be able to communicate many different things.”
As an example, Todor used an example of using the board for a student to say they wanted to go inside.
Amanda says she hopes students will be able to better communicate with each other using the board.
“A lot of times like you and I are sitting here talking and we don’t have an issue really with communication but so many kids do,” Amanda said. “And having this here is going to help them to be more comfortable to approach a friend or a teacher or just their peer that they’re like, hey, look at this word or this is how I’m feeling.”
Jack says it means a lot to leave behind something that will help children for years to come.
“I’ve grown up here my whole life,” Jack said. “I went to kindergarten here. Now a senior. So it’s really awesome to see or to be able to help out my community that way.”
For more information about AAC, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website.