Dan and Josh using the autism communication board.

Peterborough dad works with city council to create autism-friendly play park

A Peterborough father has successfully worked with Peterborough City Council to create an autism-friendly children’s play park.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 4:55 am

Dan Harris (42) contacted his local Councillors, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald and Cllr Lynne Ayres, after the city council received funding to improve parks and open spaces as part of the Towns Fund.

He did so on behalf of his eight-year-old son, Josh, who is autistic and non-verbal. Ever since, he has been working with the council to help Longthorpe Village Park become more accessible.

A new communication board has now been installed. It has a number of images and symbols which will allow children who are non-verbal to communicate how they are feeling and what they want to do.

On Friday (November 19), Dan and Josh were joined by Peterborough MP Paul Bristow, Cllrs Ayres and Fitzgerald and others to celebrate the unveiling of the new board.

Dan said: “Communication does not always need to mean verbal communication. My little boy may not necessarily verbalise what he wants, but he can use technology and pictures to communicate. Without the board he may get upset and frustrated as he can find it difficult to communicate what he wants, but now he can simply go up to board and point his finger to show what he wants. This communication board truly gives him a voice!”

“Having a communication board available in the community won’t only make the playpark more enjoyable for the ‘Joshie-man’, importantly, it will raise awareness of autism and get the people who use the park talking about those children who communicate in other ways than the ‘standard’ verbal communication. It’s so important for society to accept that Autistic people are ‘different’ but not ‘less.’”

The city council has worked with Aragon Direct Services, which purchased the board on the council’s behalf. It will be trialled at Longthorpe Village Park and if successful, could be implemented in other parts of the city.

Other pieces of play equipment have also recently been installed to make the city more accessible, such as roundabouts that can be used specifically for wheelchair users.

Cllr Nigel Simons, cabinet member for street scene and the environment at Peterborough City Council, said: “It’s incredibly important that our local playparks are accessible to all children and I’m so pleased to see a communication board being installed at Longthorpe Village Park. I look forward to seeing the park being enjoyed by even more children and families. We always want to make sure we involve local people in how we make our open spaces more accessible and would like to thank Dan for working with us on this.”

MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow, who has pledged to make Peterborough an autism friendly city, added: “I am absolutely thrilled that great initiatives like this are being pursued in Peterborough. This helps make this playpark accessible to all, and I hope it is rolled out to other parks. It will be another step forward in order to make our City autism friendly. Dan is a great champion for neurodiversity and both Josh and he make me proud of Peterborough.”

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