Southold parent instrumental in schoolyard amenity for better communication

Catherine Bosco believes communication is important for all children to able to connect with one another, regardless of whether they speak the same language — or can speak at all.

Ms. Bosco, a registered nurse currently serving as the behavioral health nurse educator and quality coordinator at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital, resides in Southold with her three children. Her youngest, Avery Moore, 3, has level-three autism and is nonverbal. At home, Avery, his parents and his older siblings — Justin Moore, 11, and Kayleigh Moore, 9 — overcome communication barriers by using a tablet loaded with specialized pictogram- and audio-based software. But outside the home, Ms. Bosco worries that Avery — and other children in the community — endure communication breakdowns. Her concern is rooted not only in Avery’s experiences, but those of her older children as well.

“[My older kids] know [nonverbal methods are the] only way their brother can communicate; however, a lot of other kids don’t understand that,” Ms. Bosco said. “You have to [be able to] understand everybody; everybody is important. When my kids would come home they would tell me, ‘I met some new friends, but I didn’t know what to say because they only spoke Spanish. I wish I knew what to say to them.’ They would have to use Google Translate and it wasn’t right. I realized this is a big issue and we want to make sure that everyone who’s out there can communicate.’” To help all children throughout the town communicate effectively, Ms. Bosco has partnered with the Southold School District to install an augmentative and alternative communication board at the elementary school’s playground. The AAC board will feature dozens of pictogram tiles to which children can point. Each pictogram represents an idea — a person, place, need, want, emotion, action or object — an includes the word it represents, written in both English and Spanish. The board will also feature letters arranged in a standard QWERTY keyboard format, digits zero through nine and a QR code to download an application loaded with other resources to help children and adults communicate nonverbally.

“We can all learn from one another, and having this [board] provides immense support for people in order for them to form the social relationships that they need to have a fulfilling life,” Ms. Bosco said.“I don’t want people to ever feel excluded, even when they’re in public. It’s very isolating when you cannot speak to other people. Having this provides that bridge so now everyone can understand one another and hopefully takes that judgment away.”

Ms. Bosco said the school district has agreed to cover the cost of the board, which she said will be between $2,500 and $3,000. She hopes it can be installed in time for Field Day on Thursday, June 13. When asked about the board via email, Superintendent Anthony Mauro replied that the district is “hoping to have it installed over the summer.”

“The communication board allows all of our students equal access to the different opportunities on our playground,” the superintendent said. “It also provides the ability for them to communicate better with peers while engaging in play. Children learn many valuable skills through play, so providing access to those opportunities is important. All students — regardless of age, developmental level, ability or language level — will have better access to the valuable experiences that elementary students partake in when on the playground.”

Last Tuesday, Ms. Bosco joined Southold Town recreation supervisor Janet Douglass in asking the Town Board to consider installing an AAC board at Tasker Park. They said they believe this location would be idea, as the Peconic Lane park is a brief walk from other town-owned recreation facilities, including the Peconic Pickleball Court and Jean Cochran Park. Ms. Douglass also noted that Tasker Park is the town’s most ADA-friendly outdoor recreation property. The park’s Reichert Family Community ADA Playground features a pour-in-place rubber surface, much softer than traditional surfaces or wood mulch, and its fixtures boast low-lying platforms to enable those with mobility difficulties to use the equipment.

“In addition to the ADA playground, we recently put in an ADAcompliant parking pad,” Ms. Douglass said in a telephone interview. “We’re able to get the people to the playground, but trying to get them to communicate is always a barrier, especially for individuals like Ms. Bosco’s son Avery. This will be one more step to bridge the gap between community members. No longer is there a physical barrier preventing them from coming together, but this will eliminate that communication barrier for our community members.”

The idea was well received by Town Board members. Ms. Bosco is spearheading a grassroots initiative to fund the project.

“There are funds in the park and playground [budget], but they indicated that they are going to raise funds,” Councilwoman Jill Doherty said a few hours after the board’s work session. “We’re ready to supplement any funds that they don’t raise because this is an important thing.”

Once the Southold school and Tasker Park installations are complete, Ms. Bosco envisions more AAC boards throughout the community, including the Greenport School District and other public spaces, such as town beaches.

“The East End needs a lot more resources for families who are going through what we’re going through right now and for the children who are going through this,” Ms. Bosco said. “This is kind of a really nice bridge because we can learn a lot from children who can’t speak and adults who can’t speak. We can learn a lot from each other.”

To learn more or donate to fund the AAC board at Tasker Park, email Ms. Bosco at northforkcommunication@