Our daughter Eleanor was born in April 2018 and shortly after her birth she was diagnosed with Down's syndrome. I feel like our journey with Makaton started instantly from that point, but in fact she was probably 5 or 6 days old.
Eleanor spent the first few weeks of her life on the Special Care baby unit. A few weeks before she was born, there had been a video that went viral of lots of mums using Makaton with their children. We hadn’t known anything about it, but there was an incredibly kind neonatal nurse who suggested we Google it. All the children featured had DS and it was so heart-warming to see. My husband and I sat in hospital with tears in our eyes. From there we set ourselves the challenge of learning Makaton and that’s when I stumbled on the Makaton website, with so much information and tons of resources. I wanted to absorb as much as I could to help Eleanor have the best possible start.
In the beginning, I tried learning too many signs, all at once. I started a weekly class where we learnt around 10 signs a week. In reality, it wasn’t possible. Having not long given birth for the first time and how challenging that was in itself, coupled with the added shock of Eleanor’s diagnosis, the goal I’d set myself was too great. So, I took a step back and decided to stick to one sign at a time. That’s what I needed, from that point it was as if everything started to become a lot clearer, being able to break signing down into manageable chunks helped us a lot.
We used the same theory when it came to Eleanor learning signs and tried to focus on one at a time, rather than overwhelming her.
We started with ‘thank you’ and it really didn’t take her long at all. When Eleanor was about 9 months old, she mastered ‘thank you’ in around 3 weeks. We continued for a couple of weeks with just that one sign and then moved on. From there, it started to become clear to us that she was able to take on more and more signs until we got to the point where she could learn a sign a day.
In the last few months, we have noticed a shift in the way Eleanor uses signing, she has gone from being able to sign around 50/70 different items from flash cards, to actively asking for them in everyday life. She will now tell us regularly when she needs the toilet or which food she wants - more often than not it is a banana, her favourite snack!
In the last few weeks, Eleanor’s Speech and Language Therapist has tasked us with putting two signs together, so that is something that we’re currently working towards.
Her speech is coming along really well too, and we have started to notice that just like her signing, she is now almost at the stage of learning a word or sound a day. One thing that having Eleanor has taught me, is that everyone learns in their own way and in their own time. Nobody should be pressured, and every individual will get there; it might just take you a little longer.