Picture yourself listening to someone talking to you. You want to say something in response, you think about how you’re going to say it, but when you try, you can’t. No words come out and if they do nobody can understand you.
You’re left frustrated, angry and feeling isolated. For many children and adults with down syndrome, autism and other learning difficulties, including those who are non-verbal, this is their reality. However for these individuals, Makaton has lifted the barrier allowing them to communicate efficiently.
Now recognised as its own language, Makaton (similar to British Sign Language) uses signs and symbols alongside speech to help break the communication barrier. This can be adapted to the individual’s needs which helps them to develop their speech at a pace that suits them. You don’t need to have difficulty communicating to use it as it can encourage your child to talk or ask for food, drink or to sleep.
Makaton Regional Tutor, Caroline Protheroe said: “Babies use gestures before they can speak to tell us what they want. For example, they might point at a biscuit or hold out their arms to be lifted up. This helps to build and develop important communication and language skills.”
CBeebies broadcast a television programme, Something Special, presented by BAFTA-winner, Justin Fletcher, MBE who is known to many as Mr Tumble. Something Special is designed to introduce children to Makaton by having an interactive show.
In an interview with the BBC shortly before receiving his honorary degree, Fletcher said: “We use the Makaton signing system and what we do is try to give children a voice. Quite often when a child can’t vocalise they can use their hands to tell us what they want. It’s been such an incredible show and has helped thousands and thousands of children and their families to communicate.”
The programme is now one of the most popular mainstream children’s television shows and despite no longer being produced – Mr Tumble is still a household name.
A mother of two, Nikki Vivian, taught her children Makaton herself. She said:
“My eldest picked it up quickly as I used signs when I spoke words for several months. For example, I used the sign ‘more’ at dinner to see if she had enough and one day, she used it when we were reading a book and wanted me to read it again. I had never used it in that context before so she clearly understood its meaning. From then on, she picked up signs very quickly – she was about eight months.”
However, many feel as if their child cannot pick up any signs at all. Protheroe explains why they may struggle for several reasons and said: “The child isn’t lazy or incapable, perhaps it’s not being used consistently throughout the child’s life in school and at home. They may use it in the classroom, but not at home. Every child is different, we just need to take it step by step – which isn’t a bad thing. Like everything, some people just take more time to learn that others.”
Support Worker, Shona Mellis said: “I came across Makaton through my job as a support worker for people with autism. I use it at work to communicate with non-verbal service users and mainly sign with teenagers, but there are some younger children in the service too.
“With Makaton you can definitely see children are more confident and it decreases their frustration because they can convey points and ask for things that would usually be hard for them. It’s such a good tool because it opens up a whole new world for non-verbal individuals, they can finally have a voice.”
Singing Hands are well-known for their unique approach to help develop a child’s communication through songs. Now, they’re creating an album and DVD of popular songs in association with the Makaton Charity which will be designed for teenagers and young adults. They were also involved in Something Special by showing viewers how to sign nursery rhymes and songs.
Just recently, Rebecca Carless tweeted her YouTube video to The Late Late Show Host, James Corden with parents and their child signing Makaton to Christina Perri’s song, ‘A Thousand Years’. The inspiration came from Singing Hands who also covered the song. After the video going viral, the mums and children appeared on This Morning with Phillip and Holly, later Christina Perri also tweeted about it.
— christina perri (@christinaperri) March 16, 2018
— James Corden (@JKCorden) March 16, 2018
By encouraging your child to use Makaton from an early age, it can have many benefits. Makaton is a powerful tool which helps those who need a little push to have that confidence to communicate with others. Because of Makaton, many individuals are now free to communicate in a world where they felt trapped.