It's 6.45 am, Steve and I are still in bed, Tom, our youngest child who is 14, has just woken up and is outside our room.
“Mum!” – I understood that anyway “I ..............." There follows a big long sentence that I just can’t make out.
“Tom, come in here I can’t see what you’re saying.” Seeing what someone says to a lot of people is a strange concept, for someone who uses Makaton it’s the life blood of communication.
“What Mum?” Tom has Downs Syndrome and needs the help of signs to make his very difficult speech understood. He also has a hearing impairment and needs to see signs to understand what other people are saying to him.
So begins another Monday morning.
Over breakfast Tom says “Tell Janet football Friday”. Tom tends to talk in key words and he puts a sign with each one. I understand that what he means is that he wants to tell Janet, his teacher about the football tournament he played in on Friday. We work out what he wants to say. I write: ‘We went to play football with John. We went on the bus. It was fantastic.’ I scribble the symbols above the written words so that Tom will be able to read it back independently. As he points to each word and reads them out his usual key word sentences are suddenly whole, normally constructed sentences.
He is satisfied and puts the paper in his pocket for news time at school. He has three lots of money to take. On three old envelopes I write ‘Snack money’, ‘Dinner money’ and ‘Talker Club money’ again above the written words the corresponding symbols. This means that Tom can now hand in the different monies independently and he goes off happy.
Work for me on a Monday is Special Needs Playgroup. Two of us are paid and we’re supported by a team of volunteers. The volunteers have all done their Makaton Foundation training and we try to use it throughout the morning, not just at snack time when we copy Mr. Tumble’s ‘Hello Song’ from BBC’s ‘Something Special’ and not just at singing time at the end. Some of the team are more confident than others but it helps us all think about how important it is to simplify our language.
After playgroup I’ve a final session of a Makaton for Parent and Carers Workshop to plan before this evening. It’s a mixed group. There are two Couples, two Dads, two Nursery Workers, two Granddads, two God Parents and a ‘Step Auntie!’ but they’re really keen and it’s been a fun group to teach.
On the way back from school Tom wants to go to the corner shop. I find an old receipt in my bag to write his list on. I try to remember the symbols for the three items that we need, Tom goes into the shop and I walk on. I realise that Makaton is littered through my day because it’s a way of life just like talking itself.