Speech therapist creates a new way for nonverbal children to communicate on playgrounds

Board installed at TugBoat Depot in Star City

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As the saying goes, communication is key. Still, many children are nonverbal, meaning when they are on the playground; for example, there can be a struggle to communicate with others.

That’s where Kristin Messenger, a licensed speech pathologist, steps in with her creation of a Communication Core Board to help nonverbal children communicate with others on the playground. The board mimics the home screen of personalized devices that help children communicate when they point to or press on different words or actions. Just like that, the board will allow children to communicate that they want to play tag, need help to tie their shoelaces, or when they are getting too hot.


What I like about the project is that it can kind of provide more of an inclusive environment for kids who may be communicating in a different way. I thought that it was a great way for communication to be started between families with kids that are verbal so that they can initiate communication with other kids that might not speak verbally. And I thought it would be great for kids to put down their devices and be able to enjoy the playground without having to carry around their designated devices and being able to communicate through the board with other kids.

Kristin Messenger – Speech Pathologist

As of now, Messenger has already installed one board at a playground, TugBoat Depot, in Star City, but she has plans to expand. The next stop will be Jack Roberts Park in Morgantown.

However, she would like to add something new to the board, an educational pamphlet explaining what it is, why it’s there, and how it works. She said the board would be a great conversation starter once people learn more about it, and that’s really her ultimate goal, to get people communicating with each other.

All of this, she said, makes her, “really really excited.”

“I know there are kids that are going to benefit from this, but I’m most excited because I feel like there’s not enough education within families of kids that are different and that have different abilities,” Messenger said. “So more than anything, I was hoping that it can generate conversation between families with their own kids, like talking to them about the word disability and how that other kids might do something different and here’s how you can initiate a conversation with someone that might not be a verbal communicator.”

Messenger said she wants to show the public that verbal communication is the only way to get a message across.

Board being installed at TugBoat Depot

The Communication Core Board is an idea that Messenger had about a month ago, but it took partnering with others to make it possible. After having the thought, she said she posted it to her Facebook, and within an hour, she had four businesses reach out to fund the project fully.

Those partners are West Virginia Best Signs who took her idea and added all the squares and made the logos look nice, Northwestern Mutual, Playworks, and Pizazz Dance Academy. Her father, who works for Hardwood and Interior and Designs, also helped by doing the construction and cementing the board, secure during the winter.

TugBoat Depot playground

Her idea is not only popular with local businesses but also with the public. Messenger said there are already about half a dozen people reaching out to help her install the next board at Jack Roberts Park.

“There’s definitely a lot of community interest, which I think is awesome,” Messenger said. “And I like that so many people are interested in such an inclusive thing to have in the community.”

If the public or other businesses have any interest in partnering with her, Messenger said, the best way to reach out is through Facebook.

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