Your stories

How Makaton is used in the community at home, at school, at work, and out and about.

Totemigo and Harry
20/08/2020

Totemigo and Harry

Harry with his Totemigo

Harry with his Totemigo We started signing with our son Harry, who has Down's syndrome, from when he was about 9 months old. Seeing the difference Makaton made to him and how he was able to communicate with us before he could talk, made me want to continue the courses and become a Makaton Tutor.

Harry is now verbal, but we still use Makaton to aid his learning and to ensure that he has a way of communicating with others if they are finding his speech unclear and difficult to understand. Harry loves to use Makaton with singing and the school choir have started using Makaton, which is lovely to see how he can now be fully included in their performances.

The past few months have been quite challenging, having to home-school Harry and constantly think of new activities to hold his attention. Then Makaton launched the Totemigo, which I had been eager to use since I had been shown it on our Tutor Study Day back in November. I immediately joined the Totemigo website and started to make symbol strips. These are really easy to create, thanks to the template that is provided online and you can also download ones that other people have already made.

Harry has previously used colourful semantics in his speech and language therapy sessions, so I thought that this would be a good place to start with him. Due to the tactile nature of the Totemigo, Harry was instantly drawn to it and was desperate to try it out, even before he knew how to use it.

We have used the Totemigo to create sentences and Harry is now starting to recognize different word types such as nouns, verbs and adjectives. When using the Totemigo, Harry chooses the different symbols himself and then reads the sentence aloud. If he finds it doesn’t make sense, he then goes back to correct himself. He then signs the sentence and records it in his book.

He enjoys having the symbols in front of him to check he has remembered the sentence correctly. This has given him a far better understanding of how to construct sentences and can even now replace given words with synonyms, which he loves to do. Harry has loved using the Totemigo and we are planning to create mixed-up fairytale strips, so that he can make up some amusing stories containing a range of different characters and settings.

 
 

I can see that this is a really useful tool for schools and speech therapists. In fact, after speaking to Harry’s class teacher and 1:1 about the Totemigo, they are already planning to order some to help support many of the children’s learning needs. It is also extremely robust, so won’t get broken easily, as due to its bright colours and pleasing shape, every child will undoubtedly be desperate to use it. We look forward to using it more.

Totemigo is a multi-purpose tactile tool which uses Makaton symbols to help you communicate and learn in a variety of fun ways. You can use Totemigo for making choices, sentences, matching and much more.

Totemigo is available to purchase from our shop for £59.

Author

Jemma S

20th August 2020

At home

Going To Hospital Book
18/08/2020

Going To Hospital Book

Amanda Glennon and friends

Amanda Glennon and friends

Hi, my name is Angie Emrys-Jones and I am co-author of the Looking Up book series for Cornwall Down's Syndrome Support Group (CDSSG), of which my 13 year old son is a member.

We have been creating accessible books at CDSSG since 2014 when the very first book, ‘Looking Up’, was created for brand new parents coming to terms with the news that their little one is chromosomally enhanced. Our subsequent books followed the same pictorial style: ‘Tea at Grandmas’ for grandparents, an update of the original ‘Looking Up’ book, and also our most famous publication, ‘Going To School’, which inspired the very wonderful LD Nurse that is Jane Rees to approach me about creating something similar for the hospital setting.

The Learning Disability and Autism Liaison TeamJane Rees leads the Learning Disability and Autism Liaison Team at our local hospital and is passionate about making Hospital visits for patients with learning disability and autism less stressful for them and their families. Jane has been a practicing Learning Disability Nurse for over 26 years supporting and advocating for individuals with a LD or autism, making sure they receive equality of care.

After our initial chat, the lightbulb switched on and we both instantly knew that ‘Going To Hospital’ would be born and be a massive success for so many families across the country.

So, what is it?

Going To Hospital is an accessible publication for patients with learning disability or autism and aims to help children & young people with additional needs to know what they might expect to see when visiting hospital for an appointment or when being admitted for a procedure.

Front cover of Going to Hospital bookThis is done by filling the book with real life pictures of our children and young people in the hospital environment having blood test and scans etc and supporting the images with Makaton symbols throughout, with an index at the back of signs and symbols to promote communication during the clinical episode and beyond.

The book can be used to build communication and relationships between the child and health professionals, to help the child feel empowered and in control of their health decisions. Knowing the plan and what is going to happen to them at each stage has proven to enhance their experience and hopefully a more positive one with the use of this book.

In Cornwall, all patients in the county are eligible for a free hard copy from the Royal Cornwall Hospital LD Nursing team. But what if I don’t live in Cornwall? Don’t panic, the book is also be available in digital format hosted on the RCHT website and other outlets so that those with anxiety, autism etc no matter where they live will have an avenue to view the images from their device at home in preparation of a visit to hospital.

Download 'Going to Hospital' as a PDF file

Our good friend and Looking Up Books Makaton Collaborator Amanda Glennon from Inclusive Teaching Matters has produced a pdf download of all signs and symbols used in the book in the form of Healthcare Prompt Cards. These are free to download from the Makaton Library. It is intended that wards use the health cards in the download to provide now & next boards with a timeline of treatment – medicine / operation / sleep / wake up / eat / drink / toilet / home etc - thereby creating a visual timetable for patients who need more support to embed their understanding and manage expectations of procedures or admissions etc.

Healthcare Prompt CardsThe project has the support of Mencap as this runs in line with their national Treat Me Well campaign, the Downs Syndrome Research Foundation and also Paula McGowan’s high profile #OliversCampaign following the preventable death of her son Oliver in 2016 due to poor care and inappropriate treatment.

Oliver’s story, and others like his, are one of the main drivers for this project, we want to make sure the voices of our young people are heard in the clinical setting and that they are communicated with appropriately and are in control of their care as much as possible.

Jane and I are beyond thrilled at the feedback we have had from families and are so excited to work with other trusts to make the book transferable and more relevant to other hospitals.

Author

Angie Emrys-Jones

18th August 2020

Out and about

Condover College Ltd - Mr Blue Sky
16/06/2020

Condover College Ltd

SLT TeamCondover College Ltd is a small independent specialist college and residential care provider in the heart of Shropshire. Founded in 2004 by Steve McGill, a father who insisted the only very best care for his son, Matthew. Steve’s goal was to find a college that catered for his son’s disabilities and he struggled so he decided to start a college himself.

Today 16 years later, we continue Steve’s legacy of providing the best care and opportunities for learners aged 18+ who have moderate to severe learning disabilities, profound and multiple learning difficulties and additional complex needs.

Oli in the woodsWe provide Education, The Opportunities Programme, Care and Support including Accommodation and Short Breaks. Condover College has expanded and grows progressively every year, starting from just one residential home to now 13 residential homes nested in communities in and around Shrewsbury.

At CCL we use Makaton every day and we truly believe that it makes a huge difference to the lives of the people that we support. By making the world a more inclusive place, Makaton is helping everyone who lives with a communication difficulty to understand and be understood.

Emma hiking With this is mind, CCL wanted to fundraise for The Makaton Charity, to support them to be able to continue to provide the wonderful service that they offer. We had organised a Mini Makahike to take place at the beginning of May but this sadly could not take place due to the current COVID-19 situation. All was not lost… we decided to twist it up and collectively travel the equivalent distance of Snowdon as part of our daily exercise. And of course, no decent Mini Makahike is complete with a song so we all managed to practice the signs for ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and create a fun video compilation of our efforts.

Using platforms like FaceTime and Skype to communicate and teach the Makaton signs to learners and staff was a great method  to use in lockdown. Creating the video has lifted the spirits of everyone and put a smile on lots of faces! Our fundraising target was £100 and at the time of writing, we have reached £231. From everyone at CCL, we would like to thank everyone who has donated and to all staff and students who took part in the video.

Author

Condover College Ltd

16th June 2020

At school

Totemigo – bringing Makaton symbols to life
16/06/2020

Totemigo – bringing Makaton symbols to life!

Alice using Totemigo

As a parent and Makaton Tutor I have seen first hand the advantages that Makaton Symbols can bring as part of a multimodal approach for reading, writing , and developing memory skills.

I have found that they can sometimes printed card type resources can appear uninspiring to learners, and so when was asked to trial Totemigo by Makaton I was excited!

The totemigo is a robust, colourful ‘tool /toy’ which welcomes exploration and limited motor skills. The reels  attach together by internal magnets – it has a ‘rubic cube’ feel and I have found it kinaesthetic and undestructable (so far)!

Don’t be fooled by the colourful early years appearance – Totemigo uses are easily differeniated across ages and abilities and I see many uses across High School, Colleges and Adults to express feelings and choices. For example it could be used by people who have recently had a stroke and lost the ablilty to verbalise  to express their needs.

Each of the reels can be rotated vertically offering a choice of symbols and/or images and text. The vertical strips are produced online, printed, laminated and cut into strips to lead into one or more reels – depending how many you want to use. In the above pictures there are 4 and 3 reels used. The user can then build options by twisting the catridges and lining up the symbols up across the reels.

When you purchase your Totemigo you will receive the device itself (4 blank reels)  in a handy storage tube, an A4  folder to keep created activities in an activation code to enable your for your account on the Totemigo website.

Once you create your account you are able to view activities other people have shared and create and edit your own.

Using the online tool is relatively easy. When you choose to ‘+’ an image you will be able to switch on the Makaton tab and access all the Makaton Core Vocabulary symbols.

This is how it looks on screen. You can search by typing the start of the word and the symbols will be displayed to choose from. A click on the symbol adds it to your Vertical Strip.  Once you start creating an activity you can save, share and print , ready to laminate and load into your Totemigo. Previous activity strips can be stored in the folder for future use.

I have found many uses and thought I would share a few ideas here:

1. Simply Sentence building using only Core Vobabulary. You are able to colour the backgrounds, this means you can support a Colourful Semantics approach to the level your user needs

2. More personalised Sentences using pictures alongside the symbols by loading images

3. Symbol support for topic work like the 3 pigs, dear zoo by loading pictures and /or non core symbols.

Alice using Totemigo Whatever you are supporting as a Makaton Tutor I can recommend using the Totemigo, especically when talking about and illustrating the use of symbols – it really brings them to life.

My daughter Alice took the Totemigo into school to support some literacy work. Here is what her teacher said:

“Totemigo is an excellent tool which I found really helpful for children in a school setting. I used this at first for a sequencing activity within a communication activity. The pupils found it easy to use and the visuals created a great support and reference point. This would be a tool that I would use widely across my classroom for various activities and with a variety of children.”  Alicia Dooley – Dorin Park School

If you are interested in purchasing a Totemigo and have any questions please feel free to contact me . The after sales and technology support you will receive from Antonin and the team is also first class.

Highly recommended!

 

Totemigo is availble to purchase for £59 from the online shop.

Author

Amanda Glennon

16th June 2020

At work

Flamingo Chicks
16/06/2020

Flamingo Chicks

How Makaton helped us communicate our classes during Covid-19
New virtual classes 100,000 views and national TV coverage thanks to pioneering inclusivity online

Flamingo Chicks is an inclusive community bringing children together through dance. Early on in this pandemic we realised just how much of a challenge lockdown would be – as both CEO of Flamingo Chicks and mum to  a child with Cerebral Palsy – I too was having first-hand experience. 

We knew we had to find a way to continue supporting our families when our usual face-to-face classes weren’t possible.  Parents told us two big challenges were getting their children to exercise and also home-schooling.

Whilst there is an overwhelming amount of materials online, there is little that’s accessible for disabled children, particularly in terms of exercise.  And even less that is communicated in a way that they can access and understand.

Being out of routine and missing the familiarity of support from school and the raft of healthcare professionals is so unsettling - many families reported it felt like their world had been turned upside down. We wanted to recreate our content to provide that familiarity, a way for our children to express themselves and a moment of calm for parents/carers.

We partnered with science charity Lightyear Foundation to offer a unique blend of movement and science – supporting families both in terms of their child’s physical and mental wellbeing, but also keeping up their school work, with each session linked to the national curriculum.  And importantly, we recruited Makaton Tutor Nicola Pike from Better Communication Bristol as it was really important to us that our communication methods were accessible and also familiar to the children we work with, lots of whom we see regularly in special schools. Enter Makaton! Nic appears in all of our online classes, signing alongside our teachers. We know she’s a big hit with our viewers! Subtitles are also available on all of our videos.

Each week we release a new ‘virtual class’ with it's own theme, from Space to Le Corsaire (pirates) and Madame Butterfly to the Human Body.  Each has a STEM sub-theme and a spin-off science experiment from Dr Sarah Bearchall. Sarah is not only an experienced Science Presenter, she also specialises in working in SEN, and includes Makaton in her videos too.

As well as helping with home schooling, we know how much our children value story-telling and delving into their imaginations. We have produced a collection of children’s stories, written by our truly incredible volunteers, based around the theme of inclusion. Read by celebrities such as Ben Shephard, the extra sparkle is definitely the Makaton, again signed by Nic. The clear concepts that Nic signs really pull the stories together and enables everyone to engage with them.

Dance and movement provides a way for disabled children to not only develop their physical skills, such as balance and co-ordination, but to also express themselves in different ways, increasing their confidence, and enabling them to reach their full potential. Dance also develops key skills such as teamwork, communication skills, and problem solving whilst immersing children in a creative environment where they can feel free to be themselves.

Translating our inclusive and highly interactive classes into filmed sessions has certainly had it’s challenges. From green screens and lights in our living rooms, to matching up the Makaton with the class footage (ensuring the speech and signing are in unison) - all whilst working in isolation! However, our teachers found that Makaton was a really useful tool in keeping the content of the classes concise and clear. A key learning was to try and simplify the language of the sessions, to aid children's understanding. Knowing that the footage was being sent to Nic to sign really helped our teachers, as Nic would then pull out the key concepts, instructions and words from their speech to sign. This in turn helped the teachers realise the key message of their dialogue, and reduce their language as much as possible, to concentrate the content.

We are now on session 7 of our weekly virtual classes and the response has been phenomenal.  We’re up to 100,000 views across our platforms and we’ve been covered by a host of national TV programmes including Good Morning Britain, This Morning, Sky News and Channel 4.  We’ve had a sea of emails, messages and social posts from families as well as health, social care and education professionals saying how valued these new resources are.  We know they are being used in homes across the UK but also in settings like children’s hospices and hospitals and SEN schools looking after key workers’ and vulnerable children.  The thread through all the responses is the sense that disabled children and their families don’t feel alone – they feel connected again and part of something.

Feedback from families regularly includes the delight in Makaton being used so heavily, and some of the videos we’ve received show children excitedly pointing to Nic signing on the screen.  We hope that our classes will provide people with truly meaningful experiences that brighten their day and provide joy in the moment. We also hope they empower our young people - building confidence in their abilities and helping them learn new skills, whilst also celebrating who they are and creating a community of people that feel included, recognised and able to fulfil their potential.

 

Update: Flamingo Chicks have won the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service

Author

Katie Sparkes

16th June 2020

Out and about

Totemigo Trial
16/06/2020

Totemigo Trial

About 18 months ago I received delivery of an education tool called Totemigo. I had been asked to trial it for The Makaton Charity and had no idea what to expect. As a newly retired learning support teacher in Further Education and SEN teacher in Special Schools, and as a Makaton Regional Tutor I was interested to see the latest way of combining communication learning and Makaton symbols.

I run a community Makaton club (Makachat) for Makaton users who live semi independently and thought I would ask them to trial Totemigo. When it arrived, I was surprised to see that it is an old school object, in several sections which clip together magnetically with a satisfying clunk. I wanted to handle it immediately, and so did members of my Makachat group when we met. To use it requires turning each section so that you see a row of symbols that make up the syntactically correct sentence, and you can use smaller or greater numbers of sections as you build competence. My three testers were able to bring different experience to the challenge.

Totemigo Colourful SemanticsYou can use Totemigo with a stimulus picture on the first section, or you can find your stimulus elsewhere in a real-life situation, video etc. I populated the Totemigo with topics we suggested by the group, with a stimulus of a film clip linked to the topics we had been developing in the group already; signs and symbols to do with socialising in the community. I populated the Totemigo with concepts we were working on, and assigned a part of speech to each section, following the Colourful Semantics themes, i.e.

•    Who (Subject) – Orange.
•    What doing (Verb) – Yellow.
•    What (Object) – Green.
•    Where – Blue.

Oliver, William and Christopher are key members of the group. What I loved about the trial was that each one of them subverted my carefully planned activity and made it their own. Oliver, looking at the photo I had screened as a sentence stimulus, wanted to find a concept I hadn’t managed to include, ‘pub’ (you can now add concepts outside the core vocabulary). Oliver grasped the potential of the Totemigo immediately. He silently scanned and turned the Totemigo sections, seemingly oblivious to prompts.  Only once he’d made his decision about his sentence did he look up and was then happy to speak and sign to explain it. He remained grumpy that not all the concepts he wanted were there and was keen for me to give feedback about that.

 

In contrast William took the Totemigo, and found it difficult to rotate the sections, so we took it apart and he looked at the pieces individually. He discarded one of the sections and worked hard for a while to put it together. What he came up with was, quite unexpectedly, a rule for his mum about not using your phone in the cinema! He had chosen the symbol of ‘woman’ for ‘mum’ and the format allowed us to compare those two concepts afterwards to remind him of the difference.

 

Finally, Christopher had a go. He was less intuitive about the meaning of the symbols and it was more challenging for him to manipulate the pieces, so I gave him the sections separately. He had watched the others and picked up the way in which the other two had clicked the sections together and was pleased with those satisfying clunks. He could see that there was meaning in each section and once completed was happy to have a go at reading it back, with some support. I could see that it held his attention, allowed him to identify what he knew already and would be a good way of introducing new concepts to put together.

All three of the testing group used speech when reading back and signed when they had their hands free. They all used more concepts in the sentences they had made, and so were able to communicate in a more sophisticated way. They all reached for the Totemigo immediately and were motivated to use it. Finally, it gave them the time to process, to assimilate the information available and to use it in a way that allowed them to initiate, in their own time.

Well done everyone!

Totemigo is availble to purchase for £59

Author

Helen Hayhoe

16th June 2020

At work

Joy Grimsby - Makaton for NHS Staff
16/06/2020

Joy Grimsby - Makaton for NHS Staff

My name is Joy, I am a Makaton Tutor and Higher Level Teaching Assistant in Castle Batch Primary School, which is part of The Priory Learning Trust in Weston-super-Mare.  I just cannot believe the incredible things are happening to me at the moment involving Makaton and the NHS during lockdown!

This journey started 35 years ago when I was 22 years old and driving double decked busses for a living. A little girl with Down syndrome called Donna got onto my bus and gestured something to me. Her mum, an old school friend, said “she’s signing to you she’s learning Makaton at her school”.  That was my first ever Makaton sign. Donna had signed ‘cake’ her mum had just bought a cake from the shop. From that day on I started to pick up the occasional signs from Donna, who was a regular on my bus, teaching me new signs whenever we met. By the late 90’s I had started a family and so changed my job to accommodate my new lifestyle. This job was driving mini-busses for the local council supplying home to school transport for an SEN school. This is the job that changed my life! Having daily contact with children who had a range of difficulties and abilities, children with Down’s syndrome, children with autism, children with physical disabilities and children with global delay all using Makaton in some way. I became passionate about helping in any way I could including supplying respite at a local children’s respite centre.

Moving forward I retrained and was fortunate to get a position in Castle Batch Primary supporting a boy with autism on a 1:1 basis, this led me into the Speech and Language at the same school where I upped my retraining  and became a Higher Level Teaching Assistant. In 2010 I started my official Makaton Training delivered by the Springboard Opportunity Group and with the support of Castle Batch and Springboard completed my Tutor training.

Present day in lockdown at home. My friend, who is The Clinical Director of nursing, has been very busy preparing and recruiting staff for the new Nightingale Hospital Bristol. However she was very concerned about the feedback from other Nightingale Hospitals saying they found it very difficult to communicate with each other whilst wearing PPE so asked me to provide her with a few Makaton signs to help, of course I said yes and jumped at the chance to help. The Nightingale team decided on the words they needed, I put the signs and symbols into a poster and recorded a little video of how to make the signs for them to share during their own training. Little did I know what impact this would have! These few signs have become a local news story, I have been on local radio and local news broadcasts talking about Makaton, the Press association has shown interest and I have received hundreds of acknowledgments on social media! I am doing a webinar about Makaton to the NHS (possibly an audience of 200) which may also lead to more staff being trained up to use Makaton throughout Hospitals and care homes throughout the country.

Author

Joy Grimsby

16th June 2020

At work

Mr Blue Sky - with Makaton
12/05/2020

Mr Blue Sky - with Makaton

Suzanne 'playing' an inflatable guitar

As with our fellow Makaton Tutors (and the Charity too), Boris Johnson's lockdown announcement threw us into turmoil with the abrupt closure of all events, schools and any training opportunities. The news of the Covid-19 pandemic was scary not just from a health perspective but also from a livelihood perspective - how could we possibly manage to get through a prolonged period with no opportunity to work?

Those first couple of weeks after the announcement had us all plunged into a rapid learning phase trying to find out whether we could ride out this pandemic by running classes via this previously unheard of platform called Zoom.

In amongst all this learning (with a bit of panicking and the odd sob here and there), we decided that the best way to pick ourselves up was going to be through music and through collaboration and supporting each other. And if that music includes ample opportunity for comedy air guitar, then even better!

One of the wonderful and positive things about social media - particularly during these strange times - has been the ability to connect with fellow Makaton Tutors and build a network of colleagues, outside of Singing Hands, who all share the same passion for communication.

With that in mind, we posted on the Facebook group for Makaton Tutors asking who'd be up for joining in with a Makaton lip-synced rendition of Mr Blue Sky It's a classic song that you cannot help but feel uplifted by once you hear it. Our hope was that it would bring some joy in amongst all the fear.

Luckily we had lots of tutors all across the UK who put their hands up and said YES! We then translated the song (with thanks to Nic Pike and Tracy Clark too) and divided up the lines and the musical interludes and this is the result. Over 50 tutors, many of whom have appeared with their children, bringing so much happiness to others during lockdown. If you haven't seen it already we hope you like it.

Thank you so much to everyone who was up for being involved, we couldn't have achieved it without you.

 

Author

Suzanne Miell-Ingram

12th May 2020

Out and about

Castlemilk Family Learning Centre
12/05/2020

Castlemilk Family Learning Centre

Joanne and Johan with Dave Benson Phillips

Joanne and Johan with Dave Benson PhillipsWe are on a wonderful Makaton journey which has led to us sharing our passion for Makaton within our local community. This journey began with our two wonderful staff members, Joanne and Johan, attending Makaton training and sharing their interest in further developing our children’s communication skills. They have led this journey; supporting our staff and families and sharing their enthusiasm.

We began using signs of the week, and staff quickly embraced signing and the enjoyment it brought to our establishment. We post our sign of the week and Makaton song of the month on our seesaw app and on our twitter page.

We have visuals and signs displayed all around our establishment as well as our sign of the week.

Families watch and learn the signs and join in together. The positive feedback we have gained from parents is huge. We observed in particular how beneficial signing with songs had on our children and the impact it had on all our children’s communication skills. The children started to spontaneously sign to one another, helping each other understand. We began sign along sessions with our parents, so the children could show how much they had learned and express the enjoyment it brings. Makaton strengthens the children’s communication, confidence and self-esteem.

Our sign along sessions have become a big family event. In September 2019 we received our Makaton Friendly award and quickly got to work on how we would like to celebrate. We invited Dave Benson Philips, and on the 12th December 2019 he spent the morning with us singing Christmas songs and watching all our fabulous children sign and sing. All of our families joined us in this event. Dave was amazing, energetic and expressed how much he enjoyed seeing all the signing the children were doing. Dave joined us for our Christmas family market, having some warm soup, and enjoyed chatting to staff and our families.
Pupils and staff with Dave Benson Phillips

The children are so proud of their achievements and love learning new signs and songs. Makaton is embedded within Castlemilk Family Learning Centre and we are very proud. We are now focusing on raising further awareness within our education sector and sharing our good practice.

We are delighted Makaton is being talked about and used in and around our community. This is because of all our staff children and families’ enthusiasm recognising the enjoyment and benefits signing have brought to our establishment.

As our Makaton Tutor Karen said, we are “riding a Makaton wave."

Author

Kelly Sloan

12th May 2020

At school

SWAN UK - Dottie's story
17/04/2020

SWAN UK - Dottie's story

Dottie

DottieWe've been using Makaton in our family for almost 9 years which is something I never expected all those years ago. When my eldest son Henry was born we did some baby signing classes, which I found very rewarding and really bonding between us as well. When Dottie was born we signed up to do them again as I’d enjoyed it so much the first time around. Dottie is now 8 years old and we didn’t realise then what lay ahead.

Dottie has an undiagnosed genetic condition and this presents itself largely with her having learning disabilities and epilepsy. At 18 months old, Dottie still hadn’t hit many of the typical milestones, such as walking or talking; she also had other medical and health issues which became apparent around this time.

This meant lots of hospital appointments, tests, procedures, planned and emergency hospital stays, and different therapies. These appointments and therapies are still continuing now.  We receive excellent care with everyone doing everything they can but we still don’t know what is causing Dottie’s challenges, and why she isn’t developing typically.

Marie and DottieThis has been extremely challenging over the years and I am grateful to be supported by an organisation called SWAN UK (this stands for syndromes without a name). They provide information and support to families with children and young adults with undiagnosed genetic conditions and these children are affectionately known as swans.

Dottie is largely non-verbal, although she has recently started saying some words and she has the sweetest voice, however Makaton is one of her main ways to communicate. I’m so grateful I knew about Makaton so early on and was able to easily incorporate it into our family life.

At one year old I started using 20 key signs with Dottie consistently for more than a year before she started to sign back, I am so glad I didn’t give up, it was just going to take Dottie longer to learn the signs than her brother.

At 3 years old Dottie’s first sign was duck, which she signed in hospital when she was very poorly: it was such a wonderful and reassuring moment after being extremely worried for the previous few days in hospital.  Drink, Eat, More and other animal signs came shortly after that.

Slowly but consistently Dottie was always making progress adding to her signing repertoire and at 5 years old knew around 300 signs.  It was at this point I attended a Makaton workshop (Levels 1 & 2), as I realised after being largely self-taught (with the help of Dottie’s SALT) I needed to learn more signs to help teach Dottie more.

The course was so valuable and really cemented my knowledge. Up until this point we weren’t using symbols very much, as I didn’t fully understand them, and the course was also very helpful for this. Both at school and home we now use a visual timetable and signs for now and next and choosing items, which Dottie responds really well too. I wish I had attended the workshop earlier and I now encourage friends who have just started using Makaton to go on the course as soon as they can.

We noticed from an early age that Dottie loved watching TV programmes with people signing, particularly Something Special with Mr Tumble.

Dottie with Singing HandsDottie also loves music and singing: she is a big fan of Singing Hands and really enjoys watching them. We noticed that Dottie was learning lots of new signs and picking them up quickly from Singing Hands and she would often sign songs to herself in her bedroom. Now she is able to say a few words, we hear her singing the tune, saying some of words and signing along, its so wonderful to see and hear. Music, together with signing and singing, definitely helps Dottie to learn and retain new signs, it also helps me do the same. We get so much joy watching Singing Hands together, we’ve also been able to see them live and they are such lovely ladies too. We can’t recommend them enough.

Dottie and family with Singing Hands

Dottie signing FishIn the last couple of weeks we have been using the Makaton resources more than ever as we are home during the pandemic and trying our best to continue Dottie’s learning. We found the Your Home resource pack easy to use, really useful and fun. Dottie particularly enjoyed picking a symbol out of the hat and finding it in the house, we’ve also learnt a few new signs through this and its been a fun game. Now Dottie’s signing repertoire is quite large we are working on putting 2 and 3 key word signs and symbols together as our next goal.

The whole family enjoy signing with Dottie. Mike, Dottie’s Dad, also self-taught or taught by me, is planning on attending a workshop and the new online courses will be very useful for him. Dottie’s brother Henry has also expressed an interest, his signing is very good, he often corrects me when I make a mistake and it's lovely watching them sign to each other.

24th April 2020 was SWAN UK’s annual awareness day, Undiagnosed Children’s Day, raising awareness and funds to support families with children with undiagnosed genetic conditions. Many families like ours already feel isolated and lonely and need SWAN UK’s support more than ever  during these difficult times. Within the swan community, our children with undiagnosed genetic conditions are affectionately known as swans and Dottie and I would like to show you the sign for swan and share the swan in 60 seconds challenge with you.

Author

Marie P

17th April 2020

At home

Richard and Lydia's story
30/03/2020

Richard & Lydia's story

Lydia and Richard

Lydia and RichardI have been learning Makaton for 5 months now. I started learning Makaton to help my daughter develop her communication.

Lydia (now two and a half years old) is moderately deaf and has worn hearing aids from 16 weeks old. Having been identified as having a speech delay we thought Makaton would be a useful way to support her with her communication.

I started learning Makaton at a local weekly class and my signing vocabulary built rapidly. The regular practices of the early stages, with the gradual introduction of new stages each week, has meant that I feel very confident with stage 1 and 2 vocabulary. The relaxed nature of the class  and the amazing group of people who attend, with ages differences spanning 60 years it has been an absolute pleasure to learn and I now go as much for the enjoyment as for the necessity!

Lydia signing cakeWe have seen real impact using Makaton with our daughter.

The first time she linked two words together was speaking and signing (Cake please), which really emphasised to us how beneficial it could be.

The toughest challenge we have faced is trying to build Makaton into our daily lives and routine, as forming new habits and breaking old ones is extremely difficult. We are gradually having success and are slowly building more words into our daily activities, mostly at the moment centred around food!

My other daughter, who also enjoys learning new signs has started using Makaton at dinner times too (though mainly to combat the talking with her mouth full conundrum, which admittedly was not our initial motivation for learning Makaton!

I would highly recommend learning Makaton, either for the sheer joy of it or to make a significant impact on someone’s life, and if you can do it as part of a group, even better!
Author

Richard K

30th March 2020

At home

Bobbi the Therapy Dog
30/03/2020

Bobbi the Therapy Dog

Bobbi

BobbiI had been considering getting a new dog for a little while after our lovely Labrador had passed away some years ago. However, I was having some trouble convincing my husband that a puppy would be a good idea!

In March 2018 I attended training on Selective Mutism, where we discussed the growing trend of using animals in therapy. I was travelling home from the course on the train with another Speech and Language Therapist, Rachel Hawley. We got talking to a woman who had her dog with her and she told us how she took her dog to work with her – she was a support worker for Adults with Learning Disability. The dog was adorable and there it was – my perfect way in to convince my husband!! A working dog; he couldn’t argue with that!

I immediately got researching breeds that would work well for therapy dogs and started thinking about training. In August 2018 we got our Cavapoo, Bobbi. I attended an Animal Assisted Therapy course which was invaluable. I knew I needed all the right training for Bobbi as well as being able to write risk assessments and having the right insurance.

Illustration of BobbiI decided really early on that it made sense for her to understand Makaton signs. I am a Makaton Tutor, many of my clients use Makaton signs and I knew puppies/ dogs respond well to hand signals so why not?

In the early days, it really helped with toilet training – we taught her the sign for toilet and she would trot outside when shown the manual sign. I believe it has helped with her developing her vocabulary too.

She is now nearly 2 years old and understands a range of signs, including Toilet, Food, Sit, Lie down, Carrot, Outside, Ball, Teddy, Stay/ wait, Stand, Come, and Give.

She is currently learning the sign for ‘reindeer’, as she loves to chew an antler, as well as the signs for colours – even though dogs having a limited spectrum of colours they can see, I’m convinced I can teach her using sound and colour switches – might have to rethink that one though.

Ami signs Sit to BobbiShe works with a range of clients from PMLD to high functioning Autism and Selective Mutism. For non-verbal children and adults, to be able to give instructions with Makaton signing and for the dog to respond is really empowering and motivating. For children and adults with anxiety, she is an added bonus. The use of signing and non-verbal communication as part of a shaping programme for children or young people with Selective Mutism has been invaluable. I’m sure I’ll keep finding ways she can assist children, young people and adults with speech and language therapy.

She has been a really powerful addition to the therapy we offer and would not be without her now.

Rachel Hawley, who was with me on that train back in 2018, has now got a puppy too, with a view to training her as a therapy dog. We best get teaching Tilly some signs too!

Author

Ami Coleman

30th March 2020

Out and about