Makaton opened doors for me

Alex J
28th November 2012

Alex sitting on a grassy bankMy name is Alex and I am 29. Just before my 3rd birthday I was diagnosed with severe Autism. My parents were told it was so severe that I would never be able to communicate or achieve anything. Luckily my parents refused to believe this, despite the fact I could not talk, I did not look at people and showed no interest in anything beyond the washing machine going round and round.

I lived in a world where everyone communicated apart from me. I could not say "I am thirsty" or "my ear hurts". My way of communicating was to attempt to climb up the kitchen walls to reach the cups for a drink, which I was constantly stopped from doing, or to bang my head on the wall to try to get people to look at my head or my ear.

Then, along came a lady who started talking to me with her hands. She would say drink and raise her hand to her mouth as though she were holding a glass, and lots of other things. She would try to get me to copy, and get my mum and dad to copy too, It took me a while but I got the hang of it.

One word turned to five, to ten, to more: Drink, dinner, ice cream, book, yes, no, toilet. The list goes on, I had a voice!

Using Makaton encouraged me to try to sound out words. With time I used more sounds, different sounds and then words. They were not perfectly formed but they were words. At the same time my Makaton skills just grew and grew, so even when my voice let me down (which it often did because it was far from perfect and many other things like change and noise would affect my ability to make sounds) my hands never let me down.

So I could communicate my wants, my needs and in time my feelings. That was key to my development. Everyone who saw me daily used Makaton with me, but what about when I saw people as one offs: People such as doctors, family who lived miles away, other children as I grew up? Makaton helped me expand my world further with symbols! Little bits of card with words and symbols on.

I really picked up the symbols quickly. I recognised the symbols, others read the words and looked at the symbols. At times I rejected them, but once I saw them helping me I loved them. I had independence.

My spoken language got better and better and thanks to the symbols I learnt to read, to write and to spell. I even drew the symbols in pictures at school.

Makaton gave me a way to communicate but it gave me even more, it gave me a life.

I'm now 29, a fully grown adult with Autism. I am writing this myself and I have Makaton to thank because it was the start of my learning to read and write. Every day I use Makaton, I sign to my friends because my speech is still not perfect, my home is covered in symbols, I have key rings with symbols for when I go out and come across people who cannot use Makaton, but you will be surprised how many can. I once saw someone use it in Spain, I had an advantage over my parents because I could understand her and they could not! I know an almost universal language.

One of the things that annoys me is some people who should know Makaton don't. Doctors, dentists, even some learning disability and Autism specific care providers don't train staff to use it, which makes me slightly sad. I have a 24 hour package of care because of my Autism and associated disabilities. I am lucky they are all trained, but previous care providers have not been and that has just made my fight harder.

Makaton opened doors for me and it will always be in my life. It is my first language and it has given me access to life. Now I advocate to others the importance of inclusion, diversity and total communication.

At home

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