I am a Makaton Regional Tutor offering training to carers and professionals who work with Makaton users from the whole age range. That role takes up about three weeks of my professional year, the rest of the time I am a speech and language therapist working in paediatrics.
In 2009 I was following a Masters level distance learning course studying the education of children with Speech and Language Difficulties. The assignments we completed on the course were based on day-to-day practical work. One of the assignments was to find an effective strategy for children with language learning difficulties. This gave me the opportunity to research the learning styles of children with speech language and communication needs and find the research showing that many children with language learning disorders favour visual rather than auditory processing. I looked at evidence showing that this included children with Down's syndrome, children on the autistic spectrum and children with a specific language impairment
For the practical part of my assignment I used the Makaton Vocabulary in a mainstream class. At the time I was working with a child with severe receptive language difficulties and the task was to look at the numeracy lesson with the objective “Say the number that is one more or less than any given number, and ten more or less for multiples of ten”. In my language sessions I used the sign with the verbal concept of ’more’ to represent repeating an action and then ‘more’ of an object.
We had fun with toys, bubbles, play dough and all of the typical toys of a speech and language session, at the same time the class teacher used the sign and verbal concept in the number sessions to teach the numeracy objective. We did not have the Makaton for Maths resource at the time so we used what we had and simply reversed the sign for ‘less’. The signing was used in all of the numeracy lessons, and the teacher was pleased that all of the children in the class, including the child who I was working with, learned the concepts quickly.
When I discovered the Makaton for Maths resource I could see its benefits for mathematics classes and can see that all of the children in the class, not just the child with the identified learning need would benefit from sign and symbol support for numeracy sessions. I looked through the programme and my first thought was “why was this not around when I was at school”!
At this point in the course I had already chosen my dissertation topic, but I realised that I could well have researched Makaton for Maths or using symbols in a mainstream class. It is so important that we produce well-researched evidence for the reasons we choose between strategies. I like to encourage anyone working in education to consider doing Masters level studies not just for the personal challenge but also the opportunity it offers for extending our knowledge of how to support the populations we work with.
The child no longer uses Makaton in numeracy lessons, but I will have no hesitation in suggesting that we use it as a strategy to support the understanding of other language concepts in the future.