I read the excellent Makaton blog by Shona Chambers with interest and a creeping sense of déjà vu. It is a familiar story: parents anxious about what happens to communication support for their child, once they leave school or college.
Working in Adult Learning Disability services, they were concerns I shared.
During 10 years as an NHS SLT, I was often frustrated when care providers struggled to maintain inclusive communication programmes, including Makaton. Inclusive communication use was patchy in health and social services too – never mind the wider community.
So when I left the NHS last year, (with regret, Southern Rail and working parenthood just didn’t add up!) I wanted to try and raise awareness of the value of Inclusive Communication - and the benefits it brings not only to children, but adults too.
After training as a Makaton Regional Tutor, I wanted a creative way to share Makaton and inclusive communication with a wider audience – and in May 2016 The Include Choir was born.
We now have over 50 members with and without learning /communication disabilities. We use Makaton signs when we sing, but also visual supports, objects of reference, Talking Mats and a range of inclusive communication techniques in rehearsals.
Using inclusive communication involves all our members as equally as possible, and breaks down barriers to develop confident communication partners amongst support staff and local community members. Also, as one choir member commented – it’s ‘a lotta lotta fun’. Laughing together is definitely a key part of building an inclusive community.
There have been many beautiful and comedy moments. Teaching the Mayor to sign ‘donkey’ at our first year birthday celebrations was certainly a highlight.
A choir member excitedly emailing that she had used the Sign of the Week to tell a patient with Down's syndrome that the ‘Pat Dog’ was coming to the Ward where she worked, was another.
Singing the Sign of the Week is a point of honour, but it can be a challenge! If we can’t find a song that’s easy to learn in 10 minutes, we write one ourselves; from Museum to Recycling, we haven’t been beaten yet!
A lot has happened in a year. We’ve written (and rewritten) songs, performed locally and in London, sung with local choirs and to the National Mental Capacity Action Forum (singing a well-received explanation of the Five Principles of The Mental Capacity Act!).
It has been wonderful to see people’s confidence develop as the choir has grown, and with feedback like ‘It makes me happy,’ and ‘I want it to be forever and ever,’ it feels like we’re on the right track.
But don’t take my word for it. The next blog from the Include Choir will be from our members, explaining why they enjoy taking part and why they think Makaton is important for adults too.
Please do subscribe to our Youtube channel to see our weekly videos. If we can get 100 subscribers, we can get our own ‘url’, which would really help our members to find themselves ‘on film’.
Or follow us on: www.facebook.com/includechoir