Two women who work with children with speech impairments and other learning difficulties have being overwhelmed by the generosity of the Tavistock community who have donated hundreds of pounds to buy two communication boards to help children without speech communicate.

The boards are the brainchild of Karla Lillicrap who works as a one-to one carer to a five-year-old boy, Jasper Dawe, at The Cabin nursery in Courtlands Road and also cares for an autistic child, her partner’s son, at home,

Karla is pictured with Jasper in the park at Courtlands Road, behind the nursery, where the first of the communication boards will be going up. It is also hoped to put up the other one paid for with nearly £500 of community donations in the Meadows park in the centre of Tavistock.

Karla explained that the boards allow children like Jasper with severe speech impairment to communicate with carers and with other children.

Jasper can use the boards to tell her when he wants to go on the swings or the slide or is hungry or needs to go to the loo.

Karla explained that children with speech difficulties like Jasper have a book which allows them to navigate expressing their wants and needs to other adults and children, but that the boards allow him to ‘be a child’ without having to take his book to the park. The boards include a QR code which adults accompanying children can scan “because it is really important for the parents and carers to be able to use them confidently”.

Karla has the support of her colleague at The Cabin, SENDCo (special educational needs and disabilities coordinator) lead Dawn Fiske, who says that since covid more and more children are suffering from delay in mastering speech.

“There are more and more disabled children in our community and Tavistock as a community is absolutely determined to include these children in our community,” she said. “It is incredibly heartwarming that they have supported us in this way, The local NHS speech and language therapists have also been really helpful to Karla and they have supported this.”

Karla added: “I know from a personal standpoint, taking my partner’s son out and about that it has taken me a long time not to be worried about the judgements of the outside world.

“Having this support from the community had made me realise supportive people in Tavistock are, so I’m just so excited to get the boards up and I can’t thank the community enough for making this happen, because without that funding it would have been a much longer process and we wouldn’t be able to reach as many families.”

She explained that the waiting list for speech and language therapy for children who are struggling to learn to talk is currently 18 months in the local area, with covid increasing the number of children who need help “so a lot of children and families aren’t able to access this”.

The communications boards, which are colour coded like the structure of a sentence, allow a stepping stone to these children to talking.

Jasper’s mother Kate Dawe, of Crapstone, said the boards would bee very useful when they go on a family day out, hopefully in The Meadows in due course.

She said: “Jasper has some really complex disabilities including severe difficulties with language and communication and so he is non-speaking but with advice from speech and language therapists he has been getting huge benefit and making huge progress using visual communication methods.

“It shows that just because a child can’t speak it doesn’t mean they can’t communicate and there are other communication methods.

“It means that although Jasper can’t speak to tell us what he wants to do in the park he can point to the board and tell us that way. It is really heartwarming that people in Tavistock and the surrounding area want to support children who have additional needs.”