Thousands of children with communication difficulties will enjoy more inclusive visits to Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) following the introduction of ‘communication boards’ to help them engage with staff and other children.

Most children with craniosynostosis are very able communicators. Some children with craniofacial conditions may be more likely to have communication difficulties secondary to their orofacial structures. As a result, many of our young patients have additional needs, with many using Makaton signing to help with their communication.

Therefore, two sets of large, visual communication boards were designed in consultation with our Craniofacial Specialist Speech and Language Therapists, and Play Specialists.

Funded by Oxford Hospital Charity’s Small Grants Fund, these boards will be displayed in the main waiting areas for young patients undergoing treatment at Oxford Children’s Hospital. 

By equipping staff and children with the Makaton vocabulary on the boards, children will be encouraged to engage more in child-to-child communication and quality play.

This will enable children to use their creativity, while also developing their imagination, dexterity, physical, cognitive, and emotional strengths.

Sarah Kilcoyne, Principal Specialist Speech and Language Therapist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Play is so important to how children engage and interact in the world around them.

“We want our boards to open up different communication channels so all our children can engage and play together within our departments, creating an open, welcoming, learning, and equal environment for all. 

“We want to ensure that all children, including those with communication difficulties, feel comfortable to communicate when they are with staff, and enjoy a communication-friendly experience from the very start of their patient journey at the Trust.

“This will help improve patient experience, enhance patients’ communication development, and improve inclusivity.”

Children told staff, via a suggestion box, about which signs they would like on the board to help them communicate while spending time in hospital. 

There are two boards in each location: one for play, including the signs for ‘hello’ and ‘toys’, and one more specific to the practicalities of being in a hospital environment, including the signs for ‘doctor’ and ‘help’.

From April 2017 to March 2018, 1,385 young craniofacial patients used the West Wing outpatients area, and approximately 48,000 children used the Oxford Children’s Hospital outpatients department. For children with communication difficulties, this can be an overwhelming environment.

The project will benefit all children who access waiting areas in Children’s Outpatients and Plastics Outpatients. These outpatient areas are the beginning of the child’s patient experience in the hospital, and are the perfect place for the communication boards.

Emma Soper, a Play Specialist at the Trust, said: “Play is crucial for all areas of development for a child.  For a lot of our patients, there are factors that can interfere with this progress and we felt that increasing communication channels in our outpatient areas would improve their play.

“Being able to communicate, whether it be verbal, non-verbal, or signing, can make a child feel included, help their emotional development, learn social skills, and assist in developing their own communication. By playing with others, children can learn the art of communication because they can start to recognise facial expressions and body language.”

Hazel Murray, Head of Programmes at Oxford Hospitals Charity, said: “The whole team at Oxford Hospitals Charity incredibly proud to support such an important programme for our young patients through the use of the Small Grants Fund.

“We love it when clinicians come to us with innovative and simple ideas that can have such an impact on the patient. It’s thanks to the donations and fundraising that our incredible supporters do that we are able to fund these important extras across all our hospitals.”

Find our how you can help make a difference to your local hospitals, by making a donation today. 

Make a donation online     Other ways to support

Do remember to tick the Gift Aid box if you are a UK taxpayer, as that will increase your donation by 25 percent.

Pictured left to right: Jo Pinney, Senior Play Specialist; Britney Cox, Clinical Support Worker; David Johnson, Clinical Director and leader of the Oxford Craniofacial Unit; and Sarah Kilcoyne, Principal Specialist Speech and Language Therapist