Makaton Training

Today, Jon and I started our formal Makaton training. We have completed part one, and the second part is next Tuesday. I loved it! I don’t want to sound like I am bragging, but I find it quite easy to pick up Makaton, as I do in general with languages. Some signs are a bit obscure, but a lot of them make sense. The challenge now is to remember these signs, sign appropriately and sign consistently to Asa. I do feel a bit under pressure as the main carer of Asa. Jon doesn’t find Makaton as natural as I do, so I’m trying to gently encourage him… (Ok, more like on the spot tests, poor man!!)

A few people have asked me why we’re signing with Asa. Some people assume it is because of his hearing loss. There are a few reasons, and I’d love to share these with you, as well as some background information.

Makaton is a sign, symbol and speech language programme to help children and adults with their communication. Using signs does not replace speech, but used alongside normal speech, in spoken word order (unlike  BSL (British Sign Language), which uses a different word order). Using signs can help children with no or limited speech or speech that is unclear. Symbols can also be used to support communication in many different ways. Symbols match to a sign, and can be used to help those with no or limited speech or who are unable or prefer not to sign.

With BSL, you sign every word in the sentence. With Makaton, you generally only sign the key words. So in a sentence like “Look at the ball”, you would say the whole sentence but just sign ‘look’ and ‘ball’. It’s very important to remember to speak all words out loud and not just silently sign.

Jon and I would love to be able to teach some friends and family some signs to use with Asa. Please ask us if you have any questions or want to know more. It is our hope that we can host an informal coffee morning at our church to show a few signs to friends there, particularly those that volunteer in the crèche or Sunday school.

***

You can get free Makaton resources from the Makaton charity website. Friends and family, please click HEREto browse the selection (PDF files). These are usually seasonal, plus some nursery rhymes and booklets.

***

The following information is from the Makaton charity website:

Being able to communicate is one of the most important skills we need in life.  Almost everything we do involves communication; everyday tasks such as learning at school, asking for food and drink, sorting out problems, making friends and having fun.  These all rely on our ability to communicate with each other.

Makaton is a language programme using signs and symbols to help people to communicate.  It is designed to support spoken language and the signs and symbols are used with speech, in spoken word order.

With Makaton, children and adults can communicate straight away using signs and symbols.  Many people then drop the signs or symbols naturally at their own pace, as they develop speech.

For those who have experienced the frustration of being unable to communicate meaningfully or effectively, Makaton really can help.  Makaton takes away that frustration and enables individuals to connect with other people and the world around them.  This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Makaton uses signs, symbols and speech to help people communicate.  Signs are used, with speech, in spoken word order.  This helps provide extra clues about what someone is saying.  Using signs can help people who have no speech or whose speech is unclear.  Using symbols can help people who have limited speech and those who cannot, or prefer not to sign.

Makaton is extremely flexible as it can be personalised to an individual’s needs and used at a level suitable for them.  It can be used to:

  • share thoughts, choices and emotions
  • label real objects, pictures, photos and places
  • take part in games and songs
  • listen to, read and tell stories
  • create recipes, menus and shopping lists
  • write letters and messages
  • help people find their way around public buildings

Today over 100,000 children and adults, use Makaton symbols and signs.  Most people start using Makaton as children then naturally stop using the signs and symbols as they no longer need them.  However, some people will need to use Makaton for their whole lives.

‘Speak And Learn’

Today was Asa’s first ‘speak and learn’ group. This is a ten week block group therapy for children with Down’s Syndrome and their parents. The aims of the group include helping to develop communication and to encourage the use of Makaton signing.

If I am honest, I was really nervous about it last night. ‘Sicky stomach syndrome’ reared its head. Irrational anxiety. Head and heart in opposition. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go to a group that was just for babies with DS. I didn’t want to be in a room full of others like Asa, acknowledging that he was there because he was different and in need of extra help and support. I didn’t want to have to make polite conversation with other mums and dads because the only thing we had in common was that our kids had DS…

Notice that all these things above are talked about in the past tense… Because in reality, my prejudices and anxieties were squashed after about a minute! In reality, this couldn’t have been farther from the truth. In fact, I LOVED it!

There were only two other babies, J, a boy aged 7 months and L, a girl aged 9 months. Asa is 6 months old now, and so he is the youngest – and smallest! The mums and dads were also lovely, very supportive and kind. There should be more in attendance next time as some couldn’t make it. The leaders of the group were lovely. It was a very positive experience. We sang, learned play techniques, basic age-appropriate Makaton signs, sound cards, talked about a few different things like drinking cups, weaning, and we were shown some facial exercises to do with the babies. One mum previously in the group called it ‘face gym’ – I quite like that. Doing these exercises daily should help our children’s facial muscles get stronger, which will help with speech, eating etc. Talking to other mums, it is clear that DS isn’t the only thing we have in common. We’re all mums, we’re all tired and all want the best for our children! :-)

As well as the ‘face gym’ exercises, we were given the sound cards to do at home. They seem a bit bizarre, for example, the ‘sound’ for the cow isn’t ‘moo’, it’s ‘mmm’… The ‘sound’ for baby is ‘g(uh), g(uh)’… It’s a tried and tested speech therapy technique so I’m not arguing – but it does make me feel a bit of a melon doing these cards!!!

All in all, it was great. Asa, despite usually needing a nap at this time of day, seemed to enjoy it. Hopefully he, J and L will be buddies as they grow up. I can’t wait for next week’s session!

***

Tonight, Lucy, a dear friend, asked me how I was and how all the appointments were going for Asa. I love this friend. Every time she asks about me, Jon or the children, I know with certainty that she is genuine and I can be totally honest with her. What followed was a conversation about DS. I love that Lucy is genuinely interested in Asa’s development. She asked sensitive questions about his appointments, about future schooling, etc. I am far from an expert on DS, but I do appreciate being asked questions about it, even if I don’t always know the answer. I’m not a fragile doll that will break if you mention the phrase ‘Down’s syndrome’. I’d much rather people ask me about it than point and whisper about it, or think I’m too emotional to answer. Because it really is ok!!! If I can help raise awareness in an open and honest way, while not looking at things through ‘rose tinted’ glasses, then that makes me happy. I would much prefer you to ask me a question instead of a saying a generic, outdated statement such as, “They’re all so happy and loving” or “they’re all musical” (which Asa’s consultant told us when she gave the diagnosis, grr) – you probably won’t get much out of me if you come at me with these stereotypical sweeping statements…

So to all of you who have asked genuine questions, no matter how ‘silly’ you think they are, thanks!

I’m on twitter: @lizzshaw01 and on Facebook so if you have a question, ask me! Even, better, see me in person! I won’t bite (well, probably not). :-)