We have always used Makaton, signs and symbols, with Tom. He has Down's and his speech is really difficult to understand, even for us. Tom is 15 now, and at times throughout his childhood I must admit I’ve thought to myself ‘will he ever know enough signs or use them well enough, so that we’ll be able to have a proper conversation or share a joke?’ Then in a perfectly ordinary situation, in a very ordinary exchange, it suddenly occurs to me we’re doing both.
We’re in the car, I’m driving (Makaton users’ greatest challenge!): “Mum,” Tom says and signs “Where’s my ...”. he then says a word that sounds like “Gaw”, together with a sign I’m pretty sure he’s made up, because I don’t recognise it at all.
“Where’s your what, Tom?”
“My ... Gaw” he replies, repeating the same sign. We’re no further on.
“I don’t understand Tom” I reply.
He says “Look Mum” and then a word that sounds a bit like “circle” and he signs it using his index and middle fingers. It looks like a circle as well but has a sort of jaggedy top.
“Circle?” I say unhelpfully.
“Not circle Mum, look.” He then signs and says “soldier”, and is pleased when I repeat it to show I understand. Then he says “Pa” but I recognise the sign, which is “fight.”
The penny starts to drop: soldier, fight... When he repeats the word that sounded and looked like “circle”, I exclaim loudly “CASTLE”
“Yes Mum, castle! Now, where’s my..."
“SWORD” we shout together, and we both do his made up sign because I don’t know the sign for sword and his works really well!! We both burst out laughing.
“I have no idea Tom, where did you last have it!” I say, like Mums do, after all his effort, and we laugh again.
It is then that I suddenly think how would we have had that conversation and shared that laughter without us both learning Makaton. I’m so glad we did.