Using Makaton

Using Makaton

Girl signing 'drink' as someone hands her a drink in a yellow beaker

Talking does not just involve speaking. Watch someone talking, they will not just be saying words but they will also be using hand movements or gestures, facial expression, eye contact and body language (posture and movement). All this is communication.

Makaton uses speech with signs (gestures) and symbols (pictures) to help people communicate.  We also use facial expression, eye contact and body language to give as much information as possible.


Line drawing of the sign 'sleep'

To sleep (sign)

Makaton symbol for 'sleep'

To sleep (symbol)

Line drawing of the sign 'where'

Where (sign)

Makaton symbol for 'where'

Where (symbol)


With Makaton, signs are used with speech in spoken word order. Using signs can help people who have no speech or whose speech is unclear. Research has shown that signs and gestures are easier to learn than spoken words.  This makes sense.  Babies use gestures before they can speak, to tell us what they want.  For example, they might point at the biscuit tin or hold out their arms to be lifted up.  Children and adults can use Makaton to let others know what they want, make choices, share information and understand more.  This helps build and develop important communication and language skills.

Symbols can be used to support communication in many different ways. Using symbols can help people who have limited speech and those who cannot or prefer not to sign.

If a child has to rely on speech development alone, these vital skills may not develop properly: eye contact, turn taking, making choices, understanding, and sharing information.

Children and adults who have difficulty understanding and speaking often become frustrated or withdrawn. Young children may communicate this through behaviours such as screaming and kicking; older children and adults may shout or hurt themselves. By using Makaton, we are helping them to communicate in a more acceptable way.

Top tips

  • Using Makaton is fun!
  • Use signs and symbols as much and as often as you can.
  • Always speak as you sign or use symbols.
  • Offer lots of encouragement.
  • Don't give up!  It may take a while but it is worth it in the end.

It is important that only a few signs and symbols are used at the beginning. These will be the most important ones for the child or adult with communication difficulties. They will be chosen by the people who know the child or adult best. As they learn, more words will need to be introduced.

In the following video on the Something Special website, Makaton Tutor Kate Duggan provides some tips on how to start using Makaton:


Matching words to symbols and signs

It is very easy to produce materials using symbols and signs, however, care must be taken in order that the correct symbol or sign is used both syntactically and semantically, and that the result is as meaningful as possible.

There is often more than one symbol or sign for the same word. There can be several reasons for this, for example:

The word orange can refer to a colour or a fruit.


Makaton symbol for Orange (colour)

Makaton symbol for Orange (fruit)



The word can may be a verb (I can) or a noun (a can of cola).



Makaton symbol for Can (verb)

Makaton symbol for Can (noun)



You can eat (with cutlery) or eat (with fingers).



Makaton symbol for To Eat (with cutlery)

Makaton symbol for To Eat (with fingers)



An alternative may be culturally more acceptable.



Makaton symbol for Good (1)

Makaton symbol for Good (2)





A library can be a whole building or just a room within a building.



Makaton symbol for Library (building)

Makaton symbol for Library (room)



Try to imagine being him

Seth signing

Take a leap of imagination. Place yourself in the position of my beloved son. Walk in his place and talk in his place...


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