A little star

Amy Dunn
10th September 2012

Ella with her mum and dad


My daughter, Ella is 21 months old, and has Down's syndrome. We were first introduced to Makaton signing through our speech and language service.

We attended group sessions for babies with Down's syndrome run by our local council pre-school special needs service. The aim of the group was to arm parents with the tools to communicate effectively with our children and more importantly to allow our children to communicate with us. We learnt about pausing and pacing, taking the lead, hand over hand, taking turns and signing.

Ella as a babyWhen we started going to the group, Ella was 4 months old. She slept through most of the first two sessions and we missed the third as she was having her heart surgery. She was the youngest of the group and I wondered what we would get out of the sessions with Ella being so young. However, I now believe that those of us with the very young babies have probably benefited the most from the sessions in the long run. We have been able to put into practice at an early stage all the tips for helping Ella to learn as much as possible.

It is well known that children with Down's Syndrome are visual learners, which is why using signing as a communication tool is greatly encouraged and so effective. We started consistently signing to Ella when she was about 6 months old. It began with things we did repeatedly everyday like 'drink' (milk), sleep, change nappy, car and food. And she would watch and I would wonder if she would ever sign back...

The sign wall: food, phone, wash, more, Mr Tumble, and hairAnd then one day, she did! At 15 months old she signed 'more' - months of perseverance had paid off and two-way communication had begun. At 21 months she continues to do well and her current signs include baby, sorry, hair, phone, no, oops & thank you.

Nursery also embraced Makaton signing and have had some great results from the other children too. They have even introduced 'sign of the week'. The pay off for starting signing with Ella so young is that we are now beginning to get some great feedback and we are very proud of her! Even better than just signing she is also attempting the word with the sign. We get 'awa awa' when she waves and 'tar' for star.


Now Ella's understanding of the world around her has increased and we do more with her, we are having to learn new signs all the time. Places, feelings, objects, animals... I find myself watching back to back episodes of Mr Tumble (learning signs in context really helps) and the Makaton core vocabulary book of signs is now my bedtime reading. I have also frequently been known to use signs at work or out with friends when Ella isn't actually with me.

It still amazes me that I am able to understand her and that she is able to communicate to us through signing. It has been an invaluable tool and one that we will be using for a long time to come. And if any brothers or sisters come along, I will definitely be using Makaton with them too.

(To keep up to date with Ella's story, read my blog A different view...)

At home

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