Ava's Communication Journey

Ava with her mum and dad

Ava, with her Mother and FatherOur daughter Ava was born with left sided CDH (Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia) which was undiagnosed until birth. She had this repaired at just 4 days old and spent her first 5 weeks of life in neonatal intensive care and subsequently has a delay in her development, resulting in Ava reaching her milestones much later. Talking is one of those milestones she hasn’t quite reached yet at 4 years old.

Ava’s understanding of what we were saying to her was always there but as she couldn’t say what she wanted to back to us, it was so disheartening as she’s such a happy, smiley little girl, who is cheeky and full of life.

Before starting nursery, Ava would make sounds but would often become very frustrated, very quickly at not being able to communicate successfully with us. Her frustration would mean she would grab and pull us to get our attention or for something she wanted. She would also pinch and push other children on play dates, which was really hard to deal with. It often made me feel very anxious at the thought of having to constantly watch her and be ready to pull her away if she got too ‘handsy’. At times, it felt easier just to say we couldn’t make a play date, just to avoid being in what I felt was an uncomfortable situation.

When Ava started going to nursery in the months before turning 3, she had the 1:1 support from Sarah who is also a Makaton tutor. Sarah would explain the use of Makaton to us but initially we felt that Ava may not be ready to learn and follow a new skill like that, as her attention span was so minimal and she would never hold her attention to any one thing, for more than a matter of seconds. We also thought that it would somehow stop her from speaking.

Ava using Makaton symbols

We noticed as Ava spent more time with Sarah in nursery setting that she would start to use hand gestures at home or physically move us to what she wanted to do or to get something that she needed.

When we would pick Ava up from nursery, Sarah would say what sign(s) they’d been learning that day and we would see that Ava would then start repeating those signs at home. The first signs Ava made were amazing and it felt quite emotional because Ava had a huge beaming smile on her face and you could see her happy, that at last, she could sign something that we understood. She could finally communicate effectively with me and her dad and the more she did, the calmer she seemed to become. It was at this point we felt that it was time we looked at completing Makaton level 1 to gather a better understanding and to be able to use it properly to make a difference to Ava’s communication.

We talked about Makaton with our family and we had a positive reaction, although the grandparents were more apprehensive about trying to learn a new skill and retaining the information. They were also nervous about having to practice the signs in a group setting (even though we are all family and know each other!) and feeling embarrassed if they couldn’t do the sign properly. But the main thing was all the family wanted to come together and do it for Ava as everyone could see it’s the one thing that seemed to be working for her communication.

Ava reading a book

We did level 1 Makaton over two sessions which worked really well. Once we got into the sessions, everyone settled in and felt so comfortable with Sarah’s teaching, we had a laugh whilst learning and everyone felt happy they’d given it a go and actually learnt some!

Since completing level 1 and incorporating Makaton into our daily lives, Ava’s so happy and the frustration has disappeared!

Now, Ava can sign what she needs; food she wants to eat, whether she needs a drink, what she’d like to watch on tv, what she wants to play with, where she wants to go; the list seems endless now, whereas before we’d struggle to know any of that. She can go and play at grandparents and they understand what she wants now, they also have grown with confidence in using Makaton and have even carried on watching extra Makaton videos to help.

Ava has settled very well into nursery and is thriving. Nursery and the early years staff at the setting have also completed Makaton level 1 and 2, which has been amazing. Ava uses Makaton naturally and is saying the words alongside signing, with many more new words coming, whilst developing new sounds. She tries so hard to repeat a word you say to her and her confidence in talking is growing so much, she is very vocal and jabbers away in her own language a lot now, practicing sounds! It’s so lovely to hear and we’re so happy for her that she finally feels understood. We also feel very proud of her for all the progress she’s made. The future for her communicating doesn’t seem quite so daunting, we’re excited!

Written by Natalie –
Mum of the gorgeous Ava 😊