Doug Flutie Foundation Grant Provides New Adaptive Technology at Hatherly School’s Playground


Hatherly Elementary School’s new communication board

Alice George, Contributing Writer

As you may discover in the Oxford Dictionary, the word “communication” is defined as the imparting or exchanging of information or news. However, at Scituate Public Schools, it is worth so much more, thanks to the new adaptive playground apparatus being installed at Hatherly Elementary School, where building a sense of communication for everybody is top priority. With assistance and guidance from the Doug Flutie Foundation and three Scituate parents, the school was able to receive a grant to purchase a communication board, targeting verbal expansion for not only non-verbal students, but for all students.

According to Superintendent William Burkhead, this new communication tool is “a wonderful opportunity for both kids who are non-verbal and kids that are verbal to partner with those children and learn how each communicates best.” Burkhead explained that the new equipment “will be used primarily outside for physical education classes, recess, outside playtime,” and more. 

The Doug Flutie Foundation is an organization created by Doug Flutie, a retired professional football player, in honor of his son, Dougie Jr., who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. ​​The foundation’s mission as of right now is to install “one board per town in all of Massachusetts,” explained Tara Sweetser, SPS Speech Pathologist. She added, “Through the Foundation’s work, Dougie’s legacy grows, and [they] are able to help people and families affected by autism live life to the fullest.” 

After Scituate received the grant, Hatherly Elementary School was chosen within the district because they have a higher volume of students who use “augmentative and alternative communication systems, so they use devices and communication books and boards to communicate,” according to Sweetser. 

The board displays an array of symbols that correspond to form sentences, so children on the playground can “play together and communicate,” explained Hatherly Principal Julie Ward. It is set up in a way that facilitates their needs. This way, students can point to the symbols and their peers can receive the message. Without the use of the board, certain students may have not communicate with their classmates at all. This incredible device “makes the playground accessible surrounding motor skills,” explained Sweetser.

Approximately 1 out of every 1000 children in the United States have a nonverbal autism spectrum disorder. Thanks to the Doug Flutie Foundation, Scituate students of all abilities can communicate and enjoy their experience on the Hatherly playground.