Crestview Elementary innovates with communication board for kids with autism

New resource was developed with the help of parents and dedicated staff members

When Nathalie Seukpanya, whose two children attend Crestview Elementary School in Chomedey, saw that students with autism needed a new tool to help improve communications, she set out along with other parents to find a practical and affordable solution.

The one-of-a-kind bilingual communication board they came up with, made from a rigid durable material and weatherproof for Laval’s challenging weather conditions, is set to transform the way children with autism engage and communicate in their educational environment.

According to Seukpanya, many children with special difficulties attend the school which caters to their diverse needs. Developed in collaboration with dedicated staff members and the Crestview Home and School Association (CHASA), the Crestview Elementary communication board incorporates innovative features to enhance inclusivity and provide a user-friendly experience.

Answering to all needs

According to a press release issued by CHASA, the board’s distinctiveness lies in its carefully selected pictos, each meticulously hand-drawn to ensure originality, inclusiveness and gender neutrality. Communication boards play a pivotal role in enabling non-verbal or partially verbal individuals, particularly those with autism, to express their needs, desires, and thoughts effectively.

Crestview Elementary’ s communication board takes this concept to the next level, surpassing conventional expectations and meeting the unique requirements of its diverse student population. “Basically, the board helps them communicate with their educators and their peers,” Seukpanya said in an interview with the Laval News.

Pictograms chosen specifically

Because the communication board is in the school yard, she and other parents made sure that the material it is made of was weather resistant, durable and safe for the children. Pictograms placed on the board were curated and chosen specifically by the teachers.

“It is a customized board for their specific needs,” she continued. “Within the hour of installation, a child took his educator by the wrist to the board and pointed to ‘EAT.’ So, she asked, “You want to eat?” Then after a few times, he finally pointed to ‘YES.’

“These children’s biggest hurdle is to get people to understand their needs and this board helps bridge that challenge,” she said, while adding that Crestview Elementary is also home to two Asista dogs and a sensory room – “which are great strategies to help with emotional regulation and so much more.”

Improving communication

Seukpanya, who is president of CHASA, said the communication board is designed particularly to help special needs students who are non-verbal. “Because they’re not able to use words, this helps them to get their message through,” she said.

Without the board, she explained, the process of getting a teacher or anyone else to understand “is longer. But now these children are able to express themselves and get their message through.”

She said a next step will be to make the board accessible inside the school. Although the board is bilingual, that wasn’t initially an option when they sought out a special education equipment dealer, which turned out to be in the U.S. where only an English-language version was available.

Skilled parents pitched in

As a result, Seukpanya, along with staff and parents at Crestview, decided to create a board on their own from scratch, using the resources available to them, which included professional services contributed at no cost by parents working in the printing, graphic design and marketing fields.

Irene Tsimikilis, principal of Crestview Elementary, expressed her excitement about the new communication board, saying, “We are thrilled to introduce this groundbreaking communication tool to our school community. The Crestview Elementary bilingual communication board represents our unwavering commitment to inclusivity and providing optimal learning environments for all our students. We believe it will revolutionize communication and enhance the educational experience for all the children.”

Key features of the board:

1. Unparalleled Durability: The communication board is constructed from a rigid durable material, making it highly resistant to wear and tear. Its exceptional quality ensures a long-lasting communication solution for the school community.

2. Weatherproof Design: Recognizing the challenges posed by Quebec weather conditions, the board is weatherproof to withstand rain, snow, UV rays from the sun and other environmental factors. This robustness ensures year-round accessibility and functionality.

Crestview Elementary School’s new communication board is located in the school yard and helps non-verbal special needs students get their messages across to teachers and others.

3. Bilingualism: In accordance with Quebec’s regulations on outdoor displays, Crestview Elementary’s communication board respects the province’s language laws while ensuring inclusivity. The board offers content in both French and English, allowing students to express themselves effectively in their preferred language. By adhering to the legal requirements and promoting bilingualism, Crestview Elementary strives to create an inclusive environment that fosters effective communication for all students.

4. Carefully Crafted Pictos: The pictos featured on the communication board are the result of extensive collaboration between dedicated staff members and CHASA. Each picto has been thoughtfully drawn to represent a wide range of concepts, while adhering to principles of inclusivity and gender neutrality. This attention to detail ensures that all students, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds, can easily comprehend and utilize the communication board.