I’ve been using Makaton with my daughter, Emily, who has Down's syndrome, since she was six months old. My passion for Makaton came from our amazing speech and language therapist, Fiona Wilson, who ran the Makaton Beginners' Workshop for parents and carers at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.
I remember sitting in a room full of other tired parents who were still coming to terms with their child having a disability and who wanted nothing more than to be able to communicate with their son or daughter. By the end of the course we were all Makaton enthusiasts, eager to start using signs and symbols to interact and play with our children.
After completing my Follow-Up Workshop I began to see how Makaton was growing with my daughter. Her first signs were ‘yoghurt’ and ‘toast’, but as she got older, Makaton meant that we could have conversations: ‘Why are you angry?’ ‘What shall we do today – park or cinema?’ As her school teachers and friends picked up Makaton, Emily’s vocabulary grew and her frustration began to reduce, as she could make herself understood.
When I went back to work I realised that the Makaton skills I’d learned could be shared with the people that we work with at darts (Doncaster Community Arts.) We’re a community arts charity based in Doncaster; our team of artists have used dance, drama, music, visual arts and film to deliver creative workshops with children and adults for the last 26 years. Our work is built around inclusivity and communication – it was obvious to me that Makaton had a natural place within our work.
Our home, The Point, has been Makaton Friendly since 2016. Our reception staff use Makaton signing to greet people coming into the building and answer questions, while our café staff are brushing up on their Makaton signs for food and drink!
Thanks to funding from Youth Music we regularly deliver creative sessions with the majority of the Special Schools in Doncaster and now have 16 artists trained in Makaton who use it in their practice.
Teachers love that Makaton enables their children to express themselves, state choices and convey their feelings, whilst parents of children who engage in our work have told us that they have started using Makaton more at home and enjoyed stronger communication with their children as a result.
We’ve been using Makaton with adults with dementia in order to improve communication when language starts to deteriorate which has been really successful.
Thanks to funding from Youth Music, Doncaster Music Hub and Children in Need we’re running a family-friendly music festival - our volunteers have been learning the signs for bands, singing, tents and DJ. We are also running our first Sing and Sign concert where our musicians have created new songs with young people at the Special Schools to perform. We had great fun running the Makaton Signing for Babies course as well!
Meanwhile, back at home, Emily is now 10 years old and likes nothing better than listening to pop songs and translating them into Makaton and filming them!