At home

Just the way I am

Just the way I am

Mr Tumble toy on Xander's desk

Xander's desk, with Mr Tumble toy and photo of Singing HandsI was born prematurely with a birth defect effecting my ability to learn to talk and I was also diagnosed with autism delaying my speech further. Makaton was my first language and it still is.

Before the age of 7 the only way I communicated was through photos, symbols, and signing. I had no verbal voice, but I did have a voice. Often it just went unheard.

Some people struggled to hear me as they were so used to using their ears, and with me they needed to listen with their eyes.

I have many childhood memories around communication from walking round a zoo needing the toilet but every time I tried to drag an adult that way they told me to “wait”, that didn’t end so well for me.

Or an earache with no way to tell anyone apart from to bang my head on the wall in the hope someone would look at it. 24 hours later when I got a runny nose I was taken to the doctors and my ear drum had burst, I had no way to express my pain.

Watching the other kids come home from school and get asked what they did that day, I got asked too but because my voice had no sound with it, other kids would shout and their attention to what I was showing them or signing quickly went, I learnt only those who are loudest get heard. Things like this did not encourage me to try.

Makaton symbol for Dog, next to a real dogOr I’d try and line up symbols to show what I needed or wanted, not always very accurately, and people would watch, guess once, and then say “have another go, I’ll be back”, yet they never came. I don’t know if it was time or confusion or frustration that they felt, but I know I felt left, given up on at times like that.

When I was a kid, people would ask what I wanted for a Christmas or birthday and I would sign “time”: they thought I was asking how long till that birthday or Christmas. I wasn’t, I was asking for their time. I needed extra time to communicate and sometimes I didn’t get that. Sometimes people didn’t even notice I had something to say. And I wanted that time back. I wanted to tell them about something, anything. I just wanted that conversation/connection all the other kids got.

But, when people did learn my way of communicating, or even just tried to give it a go and spent the time with me, they started to call me cheeky and clever rather than not calling me anything. They saw me!

When I learnt to argue and negotiate, I felt amazing. I may not have ever won the “ice cream now, dinner later” debate, but it still felt so good to be able to try!

As I aged, and after a few medical procedures, I was able to start vocalising sounds and words, but I still heavily relied on Makaton. My speech was not clear or consistent, but my Makaton was.

With my Makaton I had confidence, without it I got lost in the world.

Even when my speech progressed to a level where some would say I didn’t need symbols or signs, I really did. Nothing made this more clear than college. I started off so well, passing parts of my course but then I was faced with people telling me I would do better in the “real world” if I stopped doing “silly things” with my hands. They would constantly say “use your words”. What they didn’t see was signs and especially symbols helped me plan my day, organise my thoughts. I still needed Makaton. As a result I started to fail and I never finished college.

If I could go back in time and say five things to those who were around me as a kid I would pick the following;

  1. Listen with your eyes not just your ears.
  2. Make time. Our communication will take longer, but it’s still important.
  3. Let me use what helps me, don’t take my communication tools.
  4. Try, just try and learn my communication method, even just a few bits.
  5. Don’t give up on me, all that teaches me is to give up on myself.

Today, as an adult in my 30s, whenever someone says “do you want tea or coffee” I feel my little finger extend and my hand make the C shape: it helps me choose. I don’t drink either, but I still need those feelings and movements in my hands to vocalise that.

My home has symbol check lists for things I may forget. Reminders. Planners and random symbols of the important words or things I might need – like medication, toilet and cider!

Symbol check lists: breakfast, going out, bedtime

I have epilepsy and after a seizure, or when I am anxious or even excited, any strong emotion really, my voice doesn’t do so well on its own, but my Makaton shines. When I let it. So, it is still a massive part of my life and I love it. I just wish others loved it, embraced it, or even tried it: my life would be easier if they did.

Don’t get me wrong, some people do, my friends especially, but out in the community after a seizure, for example, I still feel like I’m in a world where I can’t ask for help or say I am OK, because people wouldn’t understand. It’s not just an anxiety, it’s a fact. I once got approached by the police as someone believed I was on drugs or under the influence of alcohol as I was uncoordinated and couldn’t speak properly. I tried signing as I had no symbols with me, but I was told to lower my hands. It was scary. Of course they apologised once they knew the truth but that didn’t stop me feeling like I’d failed, or feeling scared or frustrated. I don’t like going out on my own as much as I should, even now I avoid it when I can. Awareness is better these days, I shouldn’t have the worries I do, but history stays with us for a while.

When I was an adult, I started working in adult social care, a voluntary work placement to gain living and work skills. I saw adults given drinks, not offered them. I saw adults be given their clothes in the morning with no choice. I saw a menu only staff had input in, and I asked why? I was met with blank faces or people telling me “they can’t chose”. Every day they would wait for breakfast when physically they could have been involved. I didn’t like it. I held bottles of drink for them and let them touch or look or point, I had that time, being a volunteer. And they did! They looked, they pointed, they touched and smiled. They had an opinion.

I remembered all those memories from being a kid and overlooked so strongly. I needed to be part of the solution because unlike those carers, I knew what it was like to not have a voice, and I didn’t want to just sit and watch that go on.

From that day I wanted to work in adult social care so people, individuals, could have a voice, an opinion and a choice.

I went to work for another company and I was put on Makaton training. I sat, I watched, I knew the signs (all be it a bit sloppy and a few bad habits), but I sat there and thought to myself “this is what I want to do. It’s why I’m here. This is my purpose.”

I asked the tutor how I could do this, she explained. Years passed, geography and my own epilepsy meant I couldn’t do it, but then lockdown came and I could! I could try and reach my dream.

I redid all my courses, and I applied. I got in.

I worked so hard each and every day. There was language I didn’t understand because I never learnt it at school, so I worked my way through GCSE revision books learning about pronouns, verbs etc late into the night.

And I got my dream! I am now a Makaton Tutor! I cried for pretty much a whole day when I found out I had passed! I was, and still am a Makaton user but now I am also a Makaton Tutor!

I still can’t quite believe it. For over 30 years, Makaton has been a huge part of my life, and at times I have hidden my need for it because of others. But now, now I can use it to help others.

I want to raise awareness. I want to tell people Makaton saved me, no honestly it did. I could ask for help when I needed it, when I really needed it and having a voice of any kind is the best gift you can give someone. I was lucky and now if I can be part of the solution and help others, that is what I want to do. Everyone deserves a voice and deserves to be heard.

It’s only because of the awesome people around me that I have had the confidence to share my story. A big thank you to “H” for always being there and never giving up. And to “N” for supporting me and for giving me that confidence and push I needed, to both of them for always telling me, I am fine just the way I am.


Xander Green

21st June 2021

At home



Melody dancing on a multicoloured disco floor
Ellie and Melodysigns looking on ‘The Bright Side Of Life’

I was 9 years old when a new foster child joined our family. Ellie couldn’t speak, she used hand gestures to communicate. Apparently, she was using Makaton, but I didn’t understand what that meant.

I thought she was making up actions to get her message across. If she wanted a drink, she’d mime drinking from a cup. When she showed us pictures in her book, she’d trace cat whiskers on her face, or cow horns on her head. She’d even stick her tongue out and pant for the dog!

I didn’t realise there was a whole community out there, a website, and workshops to learn more.

We’d introduce Ellie’s signs to other foster children so they could communicate with her, some even found it helpful for themselves. We had Dave Benson-Philips’ Makaton Nursery Rhymes on VHS and saw Mr Tumble on TV, but I thought that was simply people doing actions to songs, just like we’d do at school.

Ten years later, Mum found a Makaton Foundation Workshop, where we learnt so much. I hadn’t realised how important Makaton was. This wasn’t just a few gestures to get a point across, this was an entire programme designed to help people to communicate, to understand, to learn and to make their lives, and the lives of those around them, so much easier.

‘I Can Boogie’ with MakatonFor about a year, I signed along to Disney and pop songs that my foster siblings listened to. They loved watching and joining in, so I eventually made videos and uploaded them onto YouTube to share with their friends.

I started receiving messages from people saying they enjoyed my videos, where could they find out more about Makaton? I realised there were people who lived nearby, and all over the country, who would benefit from Makaton but didn’t know about it. My Melodysigns videos were helping them discover it.

My Melodysigns hobby was also helping me for personal reasons, too. I’ve spent years struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Epilepsy and more, things that make getting out of bed in the morning very difficult. Making these Makaton videos was building my motivation, concentration and stamina.

Signing Makaton as a ‘Barbie Girl’

After several videos, I was contacted by The Makaton Charity. I had also been making Sign of the-Week, and videos explaining what signs I used in the songs. I was told that these were technically teaching videos, and that I shouldn’t be sharing these as I wasn’t a Makaton Tutor. The music videos were fine, they were for entertainment and part of my Makaton journey, but I’d have to remove the others.

I was very upset with myself. Had I been breaking rules? Had I been teaching people incorrectly? What else could I do with Makaton, with my videos, if I wasn’t a Tutor? There was only one thing for it… I would become a Tutor.

As a musician, I need to know my ‘Scales And Arpeggios’

Years passed, I continued making videos, but there were no more Makaton courses nearby. I couldn’t travel far, my illnesses made sure of that. My hope of becoming a Makaton Tutor was fading. Then, COVID lockdown began.

Everyone relied on online lessons and meetings. I looked on the Makaton website, and there was a Follow-Up Workshop available online. I signed up immediately, learnt even more about Makaton, then signed up for Online Makaton Tutor Training.

Once I’m a Tutor, I’d like to make Sign of the Week videos again, this time knowing I can teach. It’ll be great to know that my music videos can be educational as well as entertaining. I’d love to expand into signing stories and poems, and to write songs of my own, including one that teaches all the pronouns! I’d also like to support other foster carers. When a new child joins your family, one who communicates in a different way, it can feel daunting. I’d like to be there to help carers take that first step, and to support them on their Makaton journey.



29th March 2021

At home

Makaton Membership Review

Makaton Membership Review

Tiffanie and Alfie

I am Tiffanie, a primary school teacher and mum to Alfie, who has Down's syndrome.

I began our Makaton journey when Alfie was 10 months old, with ‘more’ and ‘finished’. I carried on learning a sign or two a week from Mr Tumble on TV, Something Special magazine, and Singing Hands DVDs. I found it was really important to actively watch these with Alfie and engage with him: doing hand-over-hand signing and enjoying singing together. He is still a huge Suzanne and Tracy fan and regularly takes part in Singing Hands' Z,oom sessions.

Alfie started primary school knowing over 300 Makaton signs, which then supported his developing speech as it still wasn’t clear to all listeners. He has continued to use Makaton to learn new vocabulary, and if he is tired he will sign rather than talk.

When Alfie was 5, we took part in the 50 Mums Makaton signed car pool karaoke of 1000 years, and have also taken part in filming signed stories for World Book Day, in collaboration with The Makaton Charity, Family Fund, Singing Hands and Wouldn’t Change A Thing.

I completed Levels 1–4 of the Makaton training within the last year, starting October 2019 and finishing Level 4 in November 2020.

My local tutor Dawn was fantastic and it was great to learn alongside other parents and professionals either together in a village hall or via Zoom in more recent times.

I recently signed up as a Makaton Member. I have been really impressed with how easy it is to search for a word, and to quickly find a symbol, sign diagram and video of the word I need. The fact that I can open on any device and am not limited to one under a restricted licence is brilliant. I can look up a sign on any devices we have to hand at the time.

I have been able to add a quick hyperlink icon to the Makaton hub on the home screen of my phone so I can access the site immediately wherever I am. This is a huge help when Alfie is needing a new sign on days out and for filling spur of the moment gaps in my signing vocabulary.

There is just such a huge wealth of resources to use and I am excited to explore them all and share them with Alfie.

Thanks Makaton Charity for developing such a fabulous resource.


Makaton Membership gives you access to Makaton symbols, signs and videos, MakaChat support, access to exclusive member events and much more. Click here to find out more abut what membership can offer you!

Tiffanie Smith

29th March 2021

At home

My online training experience

My online training experience

My experience of an online Makaton Level 1 Workshop, run by Sheila Crossley T Signing Helper with Makaton Level 1 Workshop manual

I decided to book on the Level 1 course to get a proper certificate. I chose this particular course with this tutor so I could grow my knowledge of signs, starting from the very beginning.

It was my first online course, but I already knew some Makaton from school, so I'm not a complete beginner. I was a little bit nervous about joining the Zoom meeting for the very first time because I wasn't sure how it would go but the tutor welcomed me and made me feel at ease.

My biggest fear when joining the course was that I wasn't sure if I was going to pass it, but I did and have the certificate to prove it. The first signs that I learned were the letters of the alphabet and then we went on to learn loads of different signs including family members, some food names, question words, places and objects in the home.

It was easy to follow along with the tutor, the session went by quickly, at just about the right pace. To anyone thinking of joining the course I would say, definitely do it. It is really really worth it. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Interested in attending Makaton training? Click here to find a workshop

T Signing Helper

5th March 2021

At home

Makaton with Lucinda, Founders Membership

Makaton with Lucinda, Founders Membership

Nikki and Lucinda Hi, I'm Nikki! I have 3 children, and I use Makaton with my youngest, Lucinda. I am also training to be a Makaton Tutor! So I use the Makaton Hub as a parent, and now also as a trainee!

I am really enjoying my new Founders Membership on the Hub!  It is so useful to have all the signs and symbols just at my fingertips  and I love that I can log on from my phone when I am out and about if I need to quickly check a sign - so handy! It is good to have all the signs and symbols in one place too, without needing to look in different manuals etc. I am approaching Tutor training, so having everything all together in once place to revise from is really helpful.

As a member I have access to all the Core Vocabulary sign videos, lline drawings and symbols. I find the videos especially are so helpful for checking accuracy against. With the new Founders Membership I also now can explore many more signs and symbols in the new Living and Learning folder. Here are some of bits I have found interesting in there so far...

There is a section with useful signs in relation to school - ART, DRAMA etc. This would be helpful for schools themselves and for making timetables etc, but also useful for me at home to open up conversations about school with Lucinda.

There is a section with lots of geographical signs and symbols too, things like HILL, LAKE, BEACH, PUDDLE etc, which will be fab to learn ready for trips out, or talking about our local area etc. I am thinking about making Lucinda a photo album of our local area as she has been learning about this at school - so now I can add Makaton symbols to it and can teach her the signs too.

There is a folder called Tme and Seasons, and within this are some lovely signs & symbols for things like WINTER, SUNSET, SHADOW etc. Lucinda is fascinated by her shadow!

Lucinda and Zack have fun with symbolsI really like the folder with all the weather vocabulary in it, I am hoping to make Lucinda a weather chart using the symbols so she can change it each day when she looks out the window! Out comes the laminator!

Other useful vocabulary that I have spotted are words like DANGER, LOUD, NOISE, etc and I know these will all come in handy! I even found a sign and a symbol for YUK! Lucinda has a habit of refusing whatever I make for dinner, pushes it away saying "Eeeew!" then promptly pulls her plate back and gobbles up the lot! No need for the sign for YUK, however it is there should you want it!

The Hub gives you access to lots of other resources to download too, some recipes, fab games. Lucinda loves the board games, and I am going to download her some of the matching games next and I think she would like the animal bingo especially! We have also downloaded some of the books so we can add Makaton when we share books together at home.

There is a section on the Hub called MakaChat , a community space where you can ask any questions, share ideas etc. I haven't used this much yet myself but I am sure I will do as I move forward with my Makaton journey!

CHRISTMAS OFFER: Founders Membership £60 until 31st December 2020. This includes access to and download of the Core Vocabulary plus an additional 700 signs and symbols from the Living and Learning resource, absolutely FREE! (Makaton will honour the additional 700 signs and symbols year on year, for as long as you renew your membership.)


Nikki H

11th November 2020

At home

Eleanor's story

Eleanor's Story

Eleanor signs HelloOur 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.

Eleanor and Helen 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.


Helen M

2nd November 2020

At home

Baking with Alfie

Baking with Alfie

Alfie with logoMy name is Alfie. I’m 6 years old and I just love baking. I am blessed with an extra chromosome. I was born 6 weeks early, I clearly couldn’t wait to get out into the world and start baking! I have a severe speech and language delay, but I find making baking videos really helps my speech, language and also my Maths as I can practise in a fun, no pressure environment.

Alfie rolling pastryCan you believe I actually used to be afraid of the noise the stand mixer made?! I know you wouldn’t believe it now, would you? Just goes to show you that in life you should always push yourself outside your comfort zones as you never know what you’re a capable of achieving until you do.

I’m now in Year 2 at my mainstream Infant school, having just returned back to my proper school after 6 months of Mummy school. I love swimming, water, books, music, dancing and generally just being outside. Food-wise I love all foods, but particularly chocolate, crisps, ice cream, blueberries & obviously cake! I love going on long walks and regularly walk 2 miles + each day. I hope you enjoy my baking and it inspires you to get your #BakeOn #BakingWithAlfie

Alfie and MummyThe mum behind the baker...

Hi, I'm Sarah, proud Mummy to Alfie, who has been blessed with an extra chromosome!

My Makaton journey started 6 years ago when Alfie was born. I first started with a Makaton Signing for Babies course at my local children’s centre and then graduated onto Dave Benson Phillips, Singing Hands (Tracy and Suzanne are absolute goddesses in our house!), and Mr Tumble.

I then decided I wanted to increase my Makaton knowledge, so I could help Alfie find his voice and gain his independence. So, I then did my Level 1 & 2 Makaton training, and I have recently just completed my Level 3 training. I now can’t wait to start my Level 4 training later this year, as I’ve decided I’d really like to progress to become a Makaton Tutor.

Alfie and birthday cakeDuring lockdown, I started #BakingWithAlfie across Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, where we use Makaton. Not only does it help Alfie with his speech development, but it also increases awareness of Makaton across a wider audience, in an underused setting. Alfie has a severe speech and language delay and we use his baking as a way to introduce SALT and Maths work in a non-pressured environment, and we also happen to get some tasty bakes out of it too! I'm hoping to set this up as a business moving forward - fingers crossed!

Please follow us via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.


Sarah C

8th September 2020

At home

Totemigo and Harry

Totemigo and Harry

Harry with his Totemigo

Harry with his Totemigo We started signing with our son Harry, who has Down's syndrome, from when he was about 9 months old. Seeing the difference Makaton made to him and how he was able to communicate with us before he could talk, made me want to continue the courses and become a Makaton Tutor.

Harry is now verbal, but we still use Makaton to aid his learning and to ensure that he has a way of communicating with others if they are finding his speech unclear and difficult to understand. Harry loves to use Makaton with singing and the school choir have started using Makaton, which is lovely to see how he can now be fully included in their performances.

The past few months have been quite challenging, having to home-school Harry and constantly think of new activities to hold his attention. Then Makaton launched the Totemigo, which I had been eager to use since I had been shown it on our Tutor Study Day back in November. I immediately joined the Totemigo website and started to make symbol strips. These are really easy to create, thanks to the template that is provided online and you can also download ones that other people have already made.

Harry has previously used colourful semantics in his speech and language therapy sessions, so I thought that this would be a good place to start with him. Due to the tactile nature of the Totemigo, Harry was instantly drawn to it and was desperate to try it out, even before he knew how to use it.

We have used the Totemigo to create sentences and Harry is now starting to recognize different word types such as nouns, verbs and adjectives. When using the Totemigo, Harry chooses the different symbols himself and then reads the sentence aloud. If he finds it doesn’t make sense, he then goes back to correct himself. He then signs the sentence and records it in his book.

He enjoys having the symbols in front of him to check he has remembered the sentence correctly. This has given him a far better understanding of how to construct sentences and can even now replace given words with synonyms, which he loves to do. Harry has loved using the Totemigo and we are planning to create mixed-up fairytale strips, so that he can make up some amusing stories containing a range of different characters and settings.


I can see that this is a really useful tool for schools and speech therapists. In fact, after speaking to Harry’s class teacher and 1:1 about the Totemigo, they are already planning to order some to help support many of the children’s learning needs. It is also extremely robust, so won’t get broken easily, as due to its bright colours and pleasing shape, every child will undoubtedly be desperate to use it. We look forward to using it more.

Totemigo is a multi-purpose tactile tool which uses Makaton symbols to help you communicate and learn in a variety of fun ways. You can use Totemigo for making choices, sentences, matching and much more.

Totemigo is available to purchase from our shop for £59.


Jemma S

20th August 2020

At home

SWAN UK - Dottie's story

SWAN UK - Dottie's story


DottieWe've been using Makaton in our family for almost 9 years which is something I never expected all those years ago. When my eldest son Henry was born we did some baby signing classes, which I found very rewarding and really bonding between us as well. When Dottie was born we signed up to do them again as I’d enjoyed it so much the first time around. Dottie is now 8 years old and we didn’t realise then what lay ahead.

Dottie has an undiagnosed genetic condition and this presents itself largely with her having learning disabilities and epilepsy. At 18 months old, Dottie still hadn’t hit many of the typical milestones, such as walking or talking; she also had other medical and health issues which became apparent around this time.

This meant lots of hospital appointments, tests, procedures, planned and emergency hospital stays, and different therapies. These appointments and therapies are still continuing now.  We receive excellent care with everyone doing everything they can but we still don’t know what is causing Dottie’s challenges, and why she isn’t developing typically.

Marie and DottieThis has been extremely challenging over the years and I am grateful to be supported by an organisation called SWAN UK (this stands for syndromes without a name). They provide information and support to families with children and young adults with undiagnosed genetic conditions and these children are affectionately known as swans.

Dottie is largely non-verbal, although she has recently started saying some words and she has the sweetest voice, however Makaton is one of her main ways to communicate. I’m so grateful I knew about Makaton so early on and was able to easily incorporate it into our family life.

At one year old I started using 20 key signs with Dottie consistently for more than a year before she started to sign back, I am so glad I didn’t give up, it was just going to take Dottie longer to learn the signs than her brother.

At 3 years old Dottie’s first sign was duck, which she signed in hospital when she was very poorly: it was such a wonderful and reassuring moment after being extremely worried for the previous few days in hospital.  Drink, Eat, More and other animal signs came shortly after that.

Slowly but consistently Dottie was always making progress adding to her signing repertoire and at 5 years old knew around 300 signs.  It was at this point I attended a Makaton workshop (Levels 1 & 2), as I realised after being largely self-taught (with the help of Dottie’s SALT) I needed to learn more signs to help teach Dottie more.

The course was so valuable and really cemented my knowledge. Up until this point we weren’t using symbols very much, as I didn’t fully understand them, and the course was also very helpful for this. Both at school and home we now use a visual timetable and signs for now and next and choosing items, which Dottie responds really well too. I wish I had attended the workshop earlier and I now encourage friends who have just started using Makaton to go on the course as soon as they can.

We noticed from an early age that Dottie loved watching TV programmes with people signing, particularly Something Special with Mr Tumble.

Dottie with Singing HandsDottie also loves music and singing: she is a big fan of Singing Hands and really enjoys watching them. We noticed that Dottie was learning lots of new signs and picking them up quickly from Singing Hands and she would often sign songs to herself in her bedroom. Now she is able to say a few words, we hear her singing the tune, saying some of words and signing along, its so wonderful to see and hear. Music, together with signing and singing, definitely helps Dottie to learn and retain new signs, it also helps me do the same. We get so much joy watching Singing Hands together, we’ve also been able to see them live and they are such lovely ladies too. We can’t recommend them enough.

Dottie and family with Singing Hands

Dottie signing FishIn the last couple of weeks we have been using the Makaton resources more than ever as we are home during the pandemic and trying our best to continue Dottie’s learning. We found the Your Home resource pack easy to use, really useful and fun. Dottie particularly enjoyed picking a symbol out of the hat and finding it in the house, we’ve also learnt a few new signs through this and its been a fun game. Now Dottie’s signing repertoire is quite large we are working on putting 2 and 3 key word signs and symbols together as our next goal.

The whole family enjoy signing with Dottie. Mike, Dottie’s Dad, also self-taught or taught by me, is planning on attending a workshop and the new online courses will be very useful for him. Dottie’s brother Henry has also expressed an interest, his signing is very good, he often corrects me when I make a mistake and it's lovely watching them sign to each other.

24th April 2020 was SWAN UK’s annual awareness day, Undiagnosed Children’s Day, raising awareness and funds to support families with children with undiagnosed genetic conditions. Many families like ours already feel isolated and lonely and need SWAN UK’s support more than ever  during these difficult times. Within the swan community, our children with undiagnosed genetic conditions are affectionately known as swans and Dottie and I would like to show you the sign for swan and share the swan in 60 seconds challenge with you.


Marie P

17th April 2020

At home

Richard and Lydia's story

Richard & Lydia's story

Lydia and Richard

Lydia and RichardI have been learning Makaton for 5 months now. I started learning Makaton to help my daughter develop her communication.

Lydia (now two and a half years old) is moderately deaf and has worn hearing aids from 16 weeks old. Having been identified as having a speech delay we thought Makaton would be a useful way to support her with her communication.

I started learning Makaton at a local weekly class and my signing vocabulary built rapidly. The regular practices of the early stages, with the gradual introduction of new stages each week, has meant that I feel very confident with stage 1 and 2 vocabulary. The relaxed nature of the class  and the amazing group of people who attend, with ages differences spanning 60 years it has been an absolute pleasure to learn and I now go as much for the enjoyment as for the necessity!

Lydia signing cakeWe have seen real impact using Makaton with our daughter.

The first time she linked two words together was speaking and signing (Cake please), which really emphasised to us how beneficial it could be.

The toughest challenge we have faced is trying to build Makaton into our daily lives and routine, as forming new habits and breaking old ones is extremely difficult. We are gradually having success and are slowly building more words into our daily activities, mostly at the moment centred around food!

My other daughter, who also enjoys learning new signs has started using Makaton at dinner times too (though mainly to combat the talking with her mouth full conundrum, which admittedly was not our initial motivation for learning Makaton!

I would highly recommend learning Makaton, either for the sheer joy of it or to make a significant impact on someone’s life, and if you can do it as part of a group, even better!

Richard K

30th March 2020

At home

Isabella's Makaton journey

Isabella's Makaton journey

Lucus and isabella

Lucus and IsabellaI came across Makaton when my little brother Lucus was born with Down's syndrome.

I sat in on a course with my Mum and Dad, we then realised not only was it going to be a massive help to Lucus but it was going to be really useful for my other brother, Alexander, age 2, who had just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy after a stroke in my Mum's womb.

I continued just picking up key words and concentrated on using them with Lucus. Then at age 11, after watching Wayne Barrow sign to songs, I decided that I wanted to be able to do the same for Lucus.

My mum shared a video of me and it had over 30k views in a matter of days and it made me realise that other people were interested too. That's when Isabella Signs was created across all social media platforms.

Fast forward now 3 years, I have well over 120k followers across my socials, including followers from around the world. And now my brother Alexander is completely verbal, and Lucus is well on his way.

He no longer gets frustrated as we now all have a way to communicate with him thanks to Makaton.

On our Makaton journey, Lucus and I have found ourselves in lots of unique situations whilst raising awareness.

Last week we were on The One Show where they surprised me and Lucus with my all-time favourite singer, Louis Tomlinson from One Direction, which was a dream come true!

They also surprised me with the legendary Dave Benson-Phillips and Zanna from The Makaton Charity. Louis asked me to introduce his first ever live performance of his new song in Makaton.

I feel very blessed to be supported through my whole journey by The Makaton Charity. I have purchased several of their resources including the Core Vocabulary USB stick, which has been invaluable to me and my family. We also love that they regularly post free print out resources .

My daily sign vlogs have even helped my younger sister Indiana (6) with her confidence: she was very shy but after filming in some of my videos she's now no longer shy. She has also gotten great at signing!


Isabella E

30th January 2020


At home

Dorothy's story

Dorothy's story


DottyWe've used Makaton with Dorothy since she was very little, literally a few weeks old.

We started just using basic everyday signs for milk, mummy, daddy, hello and bye bye, we weren't particularly strict about it but tried to remember to use them as much as possible. I remember her being quite young and making her first attempt at the sign for milk and looking delighted when a bottle was produced.

Her signing at the start was few and far between, but it made me determined to carry on as she was clearly understanding my communication.

When she was a few months old, our local charity was running a Makaton Beginners’ Workshop (modules 1-4) and I was interested in expanding my signing beyond the few that I had picked up from Mr Tumble, so I signed up.

Dotty sticking out her tongueThe course was great and gave me the confidence to really go for it and start signing with Dotty - the whole family got involved too. This was something that I really pushed and encouraged as it was important to me that Dot had more than just me who she could communicate with.

Her first official sign, and one she still uses regularly today, was dog. She was playing with our pooch (Winston) and he moved away, she signed dog indicating she wanted him to come back and play again.

It was amazing, proper meaningful communication, done unprompted.

She used it daily after that and quickly added more to her repertoire. She is now aged 2 (27 months) and has over 100 signs, including lots of animals, and is putting them together with speech to make short sentences.

Learning Makaton has not stopped or hindered her speech development at all. We've always used Makaton alongside speech, and she has copied that behaviour. Her speech is really coming through now with lots of words, plus it's really helped her understanding.

It's also stopped her getting frustrated by giving her a means to communicate while her speech is developing.

I feel Dotty has flourished using Makaton by giving her greater independence and autonomy to communicate her wishes effectively. For the family and I, Makaton has given us a way to enhance our relationships with Dotty – finding common ground to not only communicate on a practical level, but also to play, have fun and love our time together.


Rhiannon H

5th November 2019

At home

The power of signing

The power of signing

Barnaby as a baby

Barnaby as a newborn babyOur son Barnaby was born in January 2017. We knew when I was pregnant that our baby had Down’s syndrome so we had a bit of time to adjust to the news and learn about what lay ahead for us. We met with various people who gave us advice for the early weeks and months which was really helpful and reassuring.

We learned that our baby was likely to have a global development delay, meaning they would take a little longer to reach certain milestones like walking and talking. Everyone we spoke to mentioned Makaton, but we knew very little about using signing with a baby and how it might help. Our daughter Martha, who is two years older than Barnaby, had been to baby sign classes, but as she was a pretty early talker it never really became part of our way of communicating.

Barnaby as a baby, wearing a party hat Having picked up a few Makaton signs from various groups and watching Mr Tumble, we started using some signs with Barnaby when he was about 6 or 7 months old.

We started with just a few basic ones which might help him communicate his needs; ‘hello’, ‘more’, ‘food’ and ‘milk’. To start with Barnaby mostly used gestures rather than sign – pointing to things and nodding and smiling.

By the time Barnaby was about 15 months, he had started to copy us and was doing the sign for ‘more’ and ‘milk’ if we modelled it for him. Very gradually this progressed to him doing the signs in response to a verbal cue and then when he was about 18 months old, he would request his milk unprompted. This was a wonderful breakthrough and I can’t imagine how fantastic it must have felt for Barnaby when he was able to ask for something and have his needs met.

As Barnaby’s signing vocabulary expanded to some animals as well as ‘food’, ‘no’, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ he then had another breakthrough when he was about 22 months. He looked at me and signed ‘more’ followed by ‘food’. This was the start of a 24 hour binge where I had to reward him with a snack every time he made the request!!!

Our next breakthrough moment was just before Barnaby turned two. We had done bath time rather late and my husband and I were keen to get Barnaby and his sister into bed, so instead of all having a book together I said to my husband, let’s just pop Barnaby into bed now. Barnaby looked at me and did the sign for ‘book’. It was such a special moment – to think that he knew his routine and wasn’t going to let us get away with skipping his special reading time.

I often use this example when telling people how powerful signing is. If Barnaby had not had the ability to communicate with us using Makaton he wouldn’t have been able to ask his Mummy for a book for the last nine months!

My favourite signing moment with Barnaby though was when we had our annual appointment with his neurodevelopmental paediatrician just after he turned two. She had given him a toy car to play with on the floor. He crawled over to her, wedged the car behind her bottom then looked up at her and signed ‘where’ and ‘car’! After we both stopped giggling she concluded there was no problem with Barnaby’s communication – or his sense of humour!

Barnaby as a baby, with his familyAbout six months ago a friend was sitting with Barnaby and he was signing something to her which she couldn’t understand. She said she’d love to have a way to learn some signs, especially so she could teach her daughter as Barnaby would be joining her at nursery a few months later. I reflected on this and realised that it would be helpful for all Barnaby’s little friends and our immediate family to have a way of learning some key signs. And so the next day Barnaby and I started a little instragram account (called @signwithbumblebee) to demonstrate Makaton signs.

We try and post a sign every day if we can, and love to take requests from our followers. As well as helping our friends and family it has been the most brilliant way for Barnaby and I to expand our Makaton vocabulary. Even in the few months we’ve been doing this both of us have learned so much and I can’t get over how many new signs Barnaby has picked up.

Many of them he is now using completely spontaneously and just today he surprised me by looking at me and doing the sign for ‘outside’ as he wanted to play in the garden. The first thing he signs when I go into his bedroom in the morning is ‘Daddy’ and he regularly does the sign for ‘ice cream’ when I ask him what he wants for breakfast! Barnaby loves music and one of his favourite activities is signing along to songs and nursery rhymes.

Barnaby as a toddlerBecause Barnaby’s speech is significantly delayed (he currently has about 4 or 5 actual words), it is so powerful for him to be able to sign. His vocabulary has expanded enormously since he turned two and he probably knows in excess of 60 signs now. He is also regularly using two signs together such as ‘where’s Martha’, ‘dog sleep’ and ‘mummy eat’.

As we go about our day he is able to react to the world around him and is always pointing things out to Mummy e.g. ‘bird’, ‘car’, ‘dog’. In addition he anticipates his routine and lets me know when it is bath time or bed time.

As Barnaby is nearly three we’re now starting to get quite a bit of help from speech and language professionals to encourage his speech and it is through this I’m really seeing how beneficial it is for Barnaby to have amassed such an extensive vocabulary through signing. Recognising objects, being able to remember them and having a sign for them means that when he is able to start making the sounds and associating them with the correct objects or actions it will be so much easier for his words to literally fall into place.

If he didn’t have that signing structure and background it would be an awful lot more difficult for him to make that leap. And for this reason it is so important that Barnaby continues to sign even when the words start coming as it provides the most wonderful scaffolding and structure for his speech.

Barnaby dressed smartlyWe all continue to learn every day and to appreciate the power of signing.

My favourite example of how special signing can be is the sign for ‘sorry’. For this sign you make a fist with your dominant hand and rub it on your heart. Barnaby often gets a bit mixed up with signs that involve touching the body, so if you ask him to say sorry he’ll rub his fist on the other person’s heart instead of his own. If that isn’t special enough, since learning this sign Barnaby’s big sister Martha often prefers to sign ‘sorry’ than say the word out loud despite the fact she’s more than capable of doing so. As we all know saying sorry is never easy, so having a gentler, non-verbal way of conveying it can make it just a little less difficult.

I cannot encourage the use of Makaton enough. It has literally given Barnaby a voice; not just to ask for things he wants, but to comment on the world around him, tell me what he’s thinking and to express his personality and sense of humour. Teaching your child Makaton is a wonderful experience and there is no doubt it helps strengthen the bond between you. It is a very intimate way of communicating as you have to be looking at one another. We don’t know when Barnaby will start talking, but I have no doubt Makaton will help him get there quicker and allow him to be better at it when he does.


Claire E

7th October 2019

At home

Kerry's story

Kerry's Story

Kerry with workshop certificate

Kerry with workshop certificateAt the end of September 2018 my mum was diagnosed with a rare psychological condition called Disassociative Fugue State. This condition means that the sufferer can ‘forget’ who they are, where they are or the identity of any persons around them. It can also lead to wandering off and loss of speech.

It’s cause is apparently rooted in stressful life events, events so stressful that the mind in effect takes over and protects the sufferer. It’s a very reptilian existence for Mum. She is literally operating on a fight or flight basis and nothing more, and her speech can go completely off line: she’s had a number of days with no speech. It’s not that she won’t talk, she can’t. 

Since her diagnosis there have been a number of ‘episodes’, a number of hospital admissions, and a number of tests. A number of arguments with myself and a countless number of doctors. She has also been reported as a missing person on at least three occasions with the police involved in searching for her as they deemed her high risk.

The whole world can sometimes frighten my Mum and she faces challenges each day in activities you and I take for granted. We are slowly identifying triggers to these states, so far we have sounds, particularly high pitched beeping sounds like a truck reversing and sirens. Fireworks are also hugely challenging. Did you ever notice how loudly tills beep in the supermarket? Did you ever think that your phone beeping or ringing could impact people around you significantly, like my Mum?

Smells, not as prevalent as sounds but sometimes a smell bothers her so much it can cause these wandering episodes. One such smell is coffee, which is a shame as personally I’m addicted to the stuff!

Busy places, especially if enclosed like a supermarket. People dashing about doing their business, babies crying, children screaming, personal contact with strangers, loud announcers and those awful self serve tills with the computer generated voice. Airports and hospitals are particularly bad.

We decided to learn Makaton as when Mum goes into a disassociation she loses speech, which she finds highly frustrating thus adding to her stress. She knew a bit of Makaton previously as she worked for many years as a carer to special needs people, with a particular expertise in Autism.

I’m absolutely stunned with the results. We had an excellent and understanding tutor. I emailed Sonia prior to booking the course and half expected her to say Mum wasn’t a suitable candidate for a course. I asked some odd questions about if any videos would be played and how big the class would be etc. The course was very short of people with only three of us and I know that realistically there was a chance Sonia would cancel, however she stuck with us and we completed the first stages in two day long sessions.

Since then Mum has had a few episodes, however none have thankfully yet been serious enough to involve the police again. She used Makaton for the first time when she was distressed and with her sister. She started to sign and her sister filmed it and sent it to me and I was able to tell her that Mum was saying she wanted to go home.

Another time Mum has had an ambulance called for her and she had no speech. We got onto a video call together and I was able to help Mum through Makaton to say where her pain was, where her medication was kept, what she had been eating and drinking, and that she’s slept well.

The most recent success was following a call from my aunt. She told me mum was having a disassociative episode and she was struggling to stop her running off. My aunt held the phone up as we carried out a video call. Mum didn’t recognise me, as always happens, however as soon as I started signing she almost did a double take and stared intently at the phone. I ran through some basic words we had learnt and Mum started to join in. She calmed down quite a bit and I was able to tell her who she was, where she was and who the people around her were, and reassure her she was safe.  Slowly but surely she started to come back and then her speech returned. Sadly a buzzer went off in the room which set her off again but again Makaton saved the day.

I truly believe that Makaton has done more for Mum so far than any doctor or tablet has been able to achieve for many months. It acts as a brilliant grounding tool and seems to focus her mind somewhat and drags her back into the here and now.

We still have a long road ahead and we do feel alone with it sometimes. We have good family support but as a family we are on our own with it. There’s very little information out there as it apparently only affects 0.2% of the population. Public services are so overstretched that we have six months on average between appointments with a specialist, where for an hour we tell him what’s happened and he renews the prescription and sends us away again.

Mum has no memories at all of these episodes. She literally will snap out of it and suddenly say something clearly and articulately and will realise, I guess by the way we look at her, that something happened and then we have to gently explain it to her, after all she has a right to know what happened.  We don’t know why this has happened to Mum and we don’t know if it ever be cured, but we’re working on it.


Kerry L

27th August 2019

At home

Truly amazing impact

Truly amazing impact


I first became aware of Makaton when I started my children's nursing career around 9 years ago, however I never became familiar with it.

My son James was born in 2016 and has complex medical needs including having a tracheostomy for laryngeal stenosis (narrowing of his airway), kidney issues and heart issues which he required open heart surgery. Despite all of this James is a very fun-loving, beautiful three-year-old.

Due to James’s airway problems he unfortunately cannot vocalise. When James was around 6 months old we were introduced to a speech and language therapist who began to teach us the basics of Makaton.

Anna, Ryan, Kevin and James (L to R)In the beginning it was a lot to get used to and it was quite overwhelming as you never think you are going to need to need and use signing for your children. Thankfully we did continue to learn and use Makaton signing with James and he has picked it all up so quickly.

Anna, Annmarie, Ryan and James (L to R)We continue to see a speech and language therapist at home on a regular basis and it has been really good in helping us along with our Makaton signing. It has allowed James to communicate with us allowing us to understand his feelings, what he wants and needs.

Recently, with James’s sister Anna (5 years), brother Ryan (1 year), and Kevin, my husband and James’s dad, we have all been singing songs on Anna's karoke machine. The use of Makaton and learning the signs to songs has been absolutely amazing and means James can join in and be fully involved in family fun activities.

James and RyanThe use of Makaton also helps James’ siblings Anna and Ryan be able to communicate and play with James and learn what he is asking or telling them. Also James’s aunts, uncles and grandparents are all beginning to pick up and use Makaton now on a daily basis to communicate with him. We also use Mr Tumble, Singing Hands and YouTube to learn Makaton signs and songs.

To someone starting out in learning Makaton, I completely understand how overwhelming, scary and even frustrating it can be having to learn this form of communication, but the impact Makaton will have on your family life will be truly amazing to help you understand what your loved one needs.

It is also a skill you will carry with you when you meet other very special people who uses Makaton in you day to day or work life.


Annemarie McBride

3rd July 2019

At home

Tom's Makaton story

Tom's Makaton story

Laura giving Tom a piggy back

Laura giving Tom a piggy backOur Makaton journey started in January 2014 with five line drawings on one A4 piece of paper: book, bath, ball, teddy bear and chair.

A couple of months prior to this, Tom had been fitted with a tracheostomy, an artificial airway tube in his neck to help him breathe properly.  The tracheostomy tube meant no air passed Tom’s vocal cords and as a result he was completely silent and incapable of speech.

We had spent the last few months in hospital, and it had been a gruelling time.  This took our total time in hospital up to around 11 months... Tom was 14 months old.

Colin holding baby TomAlthough the news about his speech was difficult to take and we had a lot of concerns, we were just so glad to be getting to take our baby home safely.  So in amongst juggling all the medical care at home, we started to sign these 5 things whenever we could.

Months went by.... Tom had severely delayed development as well as a long list of medical complications, so it was difficult to tell if we were getting any feedback from the signs. Then in September 2014, his dad, Colin, signed Bath and Tom clapped his hands and smiled. He recognised the sign!  All three of us signed and clapped and hugged and cried.

The following week Colin and I went on our first full Makaton training, learning Stages 1 and 2 of the Core Vocabulary.  The new signs and symbols felt overwhelming at points, but the tiny bit of progress we had seen was just the encouragement we needed. We also got to meet our local Makaton Tutor, Linda Macleod, who shared her personal experience with Makaton and the positive impacts it had on her and her family.  We were inspired!

All of this gave us such motivation to really embrace Makaton and all it could bring to Tom and us as a family, and it came just at the right time as our journey was about to get more complicated.

During our time at home, we had started to suspect Tom may have a hearing impairment - given his health complications, he didn’t undergo the usual newborn screening, and subsequent tests were inconclusive.  His long time in hospital intensive care beds meant his development was progressing differently to the average child, so even audiology and speech and language were confused.

It was agreed Tom should undergo an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test to confirm, which would be performed under general anaesthetic.  The date was booked for mid October 2014, just a couple of weeks before Tom’s 2nd birthday.

We went to hospital and once Tom was asleep, audiologists attached specialist probes to his head which would measure his response to sound while he was sleeping through his brain waves.  Tom also underwent an MRI scan of his ears and head to help assess him.

A few hours after Tom had woken up our audiologist came to see us… the news was not good.  Tom had been diagnosed with profound bilateral sensorineural deafness; they had tested him up to 90dB and there was no evidence of hearing in either ear. 90dB is the equivalent of an airplane taking off or being in the front row of a concert, so Tom was likely in a completely silent world.

A follow up appointment to review the MRI scan results confirmed the audiologist suspicions – Tom had missing auditory nerves and underdeveloped inner ears, which meant the sound signals were not reaching his brain.  This meant that hearing aids would offer no assistance and cochlear implants would be very unlikely to work.  We were devastated.  And hugely concerned about how Tom would be able to communicate with us, or we could help him understand some of his future medical treatments.

Tom riding a tricycleInitially some speech and language professionals were shocked by the diagnosis and rather pessimistic about the outcomes. With only visual cues, it was much harder to learn signing, plus Tom had other learning difficulties.  No wonder it had taken so long for him to pick up even one sign.  We were told to be realistic about his low chances of being able to sign or understand.  It was another devastating blow, and felt so cruel given all the other complications Tom was dealing with so bravely.

For Tom’s 2nd birthday we had a massive superhero themed party.  We tried to focus on how well he was keeping and the fact we were able to celebrate at home; his 1st birthday was spent in intensive care.

As I watched Tom respond to the lights and people around him, and the feeling of the music through the speakers and dance floor, I thought back to our Makaton training and Linda’s stories of her journey.  Colin and I discussed it and talked to our speech and language team again – we were going to put our energies and faith into Makaton.

So far progress had been slow, but at least the was some progress. Our speech and language therapist Georgina was very supportive, as was Linda.  With their support, as well as our amazing local mainstream nursery Larbert Day, Tom was surrounded by Makaton, with additional visual cues to help support his learning such as photos and symbols.

Sign sharing sessions were arranged for our carers at home who helped look after Tom’s medical needs, other family members attended training, we took out a subscription to the MyChoicePad app; and Mr Tumble, Dave Benson Phillips and Singing Hands DVDs were all on repeat at home.

Slowly we learned more vocabulary and felt our confidence grow.  And Tom grew with us… he continued to respond to more and more signs, and we could see him looking at our hands as much as our faces to understand what was going on.

As part of our bedtime routine, I had begun signing “goodnight Tom, mummy loves you” after we learned it at our training in September 2014.  9 months later in June 2015, I tucked Tom into bed and signed as usual, and this time he looked up at me and signed “love” back to me by tapping both his hands on his chest.  I cried out with joy and scooped him back up out of his cot, sobbing and kissing him.

TomIt had taken almost 18 months but my Super Tom had shown me he could learn to sign!

Now almost five years later we use over 300 signs and Tom signs over 50, and in sentences.  His most commonly used ones are iPad and bike, his two favourite things!  Makaton has given Tom a voice and a way of telling us what he wants and needs.  Without it, he would be a very different boy.... frustrated and stuck in a silent world. Now he is a bright, sociable and curious 6 year old with often very strong opinions on what he does and doesn’t want to do.  It’s also been hugely beneficial from a medical point of view - we have been able to explain to Tom when we are going to hospital, and what was going to happen, as well as him telling us when something wasn’t okay.

Tom has complex epilepsy and had  a very lengthy and severe seizure in December 2016.  As we waited for him to come round, the medical team had told us they were unsure of what to expect in terms of long term damage.  Tom opened his eyes and looked around, unsure of where he was. I was able to explain the nurses were looking after him and he was safe in hospital.  I asked him if he felt okay and he signed back “sore”, holding and moving his hand above his head.  “Do you have a sore head?” I signed back to him, and he responded “Yes”.  I grabbed him and gave him a big cuddle and asked the nurse to get some pain relief.  Despite such a prolonged seizure, he was able to communicate and be comforted, which was one of the key things I had been most worried about when we first got his hearing diagnosis.

Tom’s reaction to the CBeebies Makaton-signed bedtime story was just magical to watch.... I wasn’t expecting him to be so engaged but his face completely lit up and he was totally enthralled.  He seemed surprised to be seeing someone on the TV signing just like him on a programme he recognised... he kept nudging me and looking to make sure I was watching it!  There are a lot of areas in Tom’s life where it’s difficult for him to be included without a lot of support.  It’s wonderful CBeebies are using Makaton and we can’t wait to see more stories and programmes with it.

The video going viral was a surreal experience - I didn’t even know my husband Colin was filming at the time!  I had asked him to take a photo when I saw Tom’s reaction - it was an hour or so later when I discovered there was a video, and when I watched I knew I had to share it.  I so wanted to let CBeebies see how much of an impact it had made.

It was also really important to me to let Rob Delaney know how much we appreciated it as well.  We had followed the story about Rob’s son Henry, who also had a tracheostomy like Tom.  I was really moved by the piece Rob wrote about Henry, and the mention of their family journey with signing.  It felt really special for me as a parent of a child with similarly complex medical needs to see a fellow parent, someone who knows the personal and profound impact the Makaton language can have, signing the story.

The subsequent flurry of news and radio coverage was amazing!  I so enjoyed talking about Makaton and sharing a little bit of our story.  If it encourages one other family in the way we were encouraged in the early days, then it’s all totally worth it.

In the future I hope to do more training and eventually qualify as a Makaton tutor so I can keep spreading the word (and signs!) of how much it has brought to our lives.

Laura, Tom and Colin wearing Santa hats

Laura McCartney

29th November 2019

At home

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 4

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 4

Shona and MichaelThe fourth and final part of Shona and Michael's Makaton story. Read Part 3

Michael is now 20 – OMG!  Where did the time go?  He left school a year ago and now is a student at Percy Hedley College in Newcastle, it is a fantastic place and he loves it!  Although Percy Hedley was originally a BSL Signing organisation - they have Makaton on board to add to the Total Communication approach within college. Michael’s Makaton vocabulary is growing and getting better and more accurate with age and practice – and Makaton Signing at college undoubtedly reinforces this.  We are also hearing more words –always in the right context and often when we least expect them – which is fantastic! (I will never forget…..‘’Mum, Dolphin I want one’’ – but that’s for another blog……)

His Course in Independence and Skills allows lots of Makaton and PECS use in many varied situations across the college day.  The students have many days out – museums/places of local interest/Bowling/Trampolining (Michael’s particular favourite) and visits to the Pub for lunch (a very close second favourite!) He’s having a great time and continues to learn new things every day.

Things are moving on for me too.  I am North East Parent Adviser for Contact a Family and also a Sessional Tutor for a Further Education Learning and Skills provider locally.  I teach Makaton for 1 session per week to a group of 8-10 young adult learners. Last term my learners completed Stages 1- 4 Signs and Symbols plus many more additional signs and symbols linked to the Learning Outcomes of the set Course. We looked at Friendship, Team working, Safety in the Community (where we met local community Policeman - Liam – who knew some Signs by the time he left too!) We also learned more about the Emergency Services, Healthy Living, Diet, and Sleep, Fundraising, Voting and more.

Some Learners had used Makaton at school and were a little ‘rusty’ as their previous respective FE Colleges had not, in many cases – been Makaton friendly environments.  It really is fantastic to see their Signing confidence re-emerge and as many of the learners are coming back next term to learn some more, I shall have to get inventive with some new resources and my ‘Makaton Activities for Adults’ and other downloads! 

As our journey progresses – I have been saddened to see that Makaton seems to be left behind at the school gates in many cases.  I am reminded why I learned Makaton in the first place 17+ years ago (I feel old!) and why I continue to be an avid practitioner.  In many lives - like Michaels - Makaton is for a lifetime of Communication and does not stop when school stops. When Michael leaves College and enters the world of Adult Social Care – I shall make it my business to ensure that those around him are Makaton Signers – even if I need to train them myself!

If I can help you to learn Makaton – contact me at or telephone 07961 979831.


Shona Chambers

16th January 2018

At home

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 3

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 3

Shona and MichaelThis month Shona Chambers, brings us the third part of her series on learning the language. Read Part 2

My son Michael is now 16 and his signing vocabulary has increased over the years with new interests being included as they have come and gone.  His most recent interests (or shall we say "obsessions"?) are aeroplanes and airports – so these are used regularly and anything else around these that will stimulate conversation. Signs and symbols for issues around puberty and teenage boy stuff have also been added!

Michael’s use of Makaton is currently moving on from Key Word level, which means that we are working toward adding more than 2 – 3 words in each sentence being signed (but remember always the whole sentence spoken). I am conscious not to overload him with too many new signs at a time and also keep signing as simple as possible, so as not to over-complicate matters.  I am developing an expanding Makaton Thesaurus in my head and try to stick to the Makaton Core Vocabulary as much as possible. Obviously I know how to personalise Makaton for Michael, which is something I help other parents to do for their own children in my workshops here in the North East.

Michael has found Makaton gives him another way to communicate, alongside his use of PECS. However, many children and adults use Makaton as a form of communication until their voice comes, and then drop their use of signs when their confidence and speech grows. Today over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton symbols and signs, either as their main method of communication or as a way to support speech.

Michael's Makaton and PECS use will hopefully continue to grow and expand in the future – we are busy practising using an iPad mini with Makaton's MyChoicePad at the moment, so his PECS continues with the help of technology. MyChoicePad has pre-loaded grid templates and we are personalising these for Michaels use.  The Makaton Core Vocabulary symbols and signs are also provided on this app, and we have already added some more through in-app purchases.  We are also working with The Grid 2 system, which is compatible with Makaton signs and symbols. This system allows us to use a computer as a voice output communication aid, and uses symbols and text to build sentences.  We are practising both systems to see which Michael prefers.

As a Makaton user, Regional Tutor but most of all as a parent I think that Makaton should be used by everyone who shares the life of the child, young person or adult – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends and carers and education and health professionals – in fact all of us should know at least some Makaton signs and symbols.

If you are in the North East then contact me – I shall be happy to help you learn! Contact

Read Part 4

Shona Chambers

6th September 2017

At home

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 2

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 2

Shona and MichaelIn the second of a series of articles Shona Chambers talks about learning Makaton and shares some useful hints and tips. Read Part 1

The first Makaton workshop I joined was a Foundation Workshop for Professionals as no-one was doing beginners workshops at that time. The professional route later turned out to be just right for me.

Makaton training takes two routes: the Beginner and then Follow-Up Workshops for parents and carers which then lead on to local tutor status and the Foundation and Enhancement Workshop for professionals can lead to regional tutor status after more training. Whichever route you take it is important to remember that children and young people for whom Makaton could become a way of communication are not taught in the same way as you will be trained. Every child is very different and as you go through the various workshops you will be shown how to differentiate teaching Makaton signs and symbols from child to child and how to personalise Makaton to each individual child.

When I began signing with with my son Michael he was very interested, but I was very conscious that I must not overload him, so I decided on a few basics at first.  Michael has always loved his food and, like me, has a sweet tooth. Like most kids, biscuits motivated him! So we began with his favourite things – biscuits, yoghurts, juice – closely followed by mummy and daddy. His favourite pastime was to read books, and watch DVD’s. He had lots of toys but never quite knew how to play with them – preferring to throw them and watch them fall, listening to the noise they made as they hit the hall floor, wall, or sometimes window! ‘Book’ was on the early list and ‘DVD’.  Although Michael has autism he has always had very good eye contact so he watched intently whenever I signed  - and because I always spoke the word too, he was given extra clues through the sound, watching my lips move without even realising it.

As a Makaton regional tutor, I always advise other parents of children with any communication difficulty, if they tell me that their child’s eye contact is very fleeting or even fairly non-existent, to give signing a try, as it has been shown to work for some children with very limited eye contact. I advise any parent not sure about Makaton to read up on the research on the topic, either via the Makaton website or other respected article sources. Every child is different, so what works for one may not be of any interest to another. Research shows that some children with autism may prefer to use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) as their chosen form of communication. Makaton symbols can be used for these children. Personally I always advise to back up any PECS symbols with the corresponding sign. Michael uses PECS too. His Pecs use is very good and in many ways better than his signing, but he chooses to communicate using a mixture of both which is great.

Michael has very chunky hands and very broad thumbs (these are a symptom of Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome) so he can sometimes struggle with fine motor skills.  His signs are not always clear but he will always try – which is brilliant!  Sometimes Michael will make up his own version of a sign if he cannot get his hands or fingers to copy mine – that’s ok but we must be aware that we do not start copying his versions of these signs – as this is a very easy trap to fall into. It can be really easy to get lazy with your signs but really sloppy signs just confuse and that confusion may lead to a toy bouncing off your head! Also, always remember to use your dominant hand for the most part of the sign – so if you are right-handed use your right hand, left use the left. Consistency is key!

When Michael is struggling I will try to help him by using ‘hand over hand’, although this does not always work If he is not in the mood. Then, I will leave it, as the last thing I want to do is to make signing uncomfortable and put him off. Consistency of signs is vital; a good tip is to practice signing in front of a mirror. Make sure that everyone around him knows his version of a particular sign too – this is very important as can lead to all sorts of problems. An example of this is when school reported that they thought that Michael had a pain in his tummy as he kept ‘patting’ it – I immediately realised that this was Michael’s version of ‘toilet’! We also discovered that they thought that Michael always wanted the same reading book in school – and when he was given the same book each time he got very cross, and they did not know why. Michaels sign for ‘book’ is actually the sign for ‘same’. I now make sure that school are aware of any signing differences!

Read Part 3


Shona Chambers

20th October 2014

At home

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 1

Shona's Makaton Story, Part 1

Shona and MichaelMy name is Shona Chambers and I am a Makaton Tutor. Over the next few months I'll be taking a look at Makaton with lots of helpful hints, tips and information for families.

I am a fully qualified and fully licensed Makaton Regional Tutor and as part of my role I offer Makaton training to parents and professionals in my area. I first heard of Makaton when my son was just a few weeks old – Michael has Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome, ASD and is non verbal – (my husband who is not great with names insisted in calling it ‘Maconker’ for ages!).  All I knew then was it was a form of signing that might help my son if he did not manage to talk. A bit like British Sign Language I was told – I watched the bottom right corner of the  BBC news for tips and thought – okay, this might be hard, but will give it a good try!

I began by meeting Dave Benson Phillips (via video sadly not in the flesh!- yet) and sat glued to the TV watching intently what it was he was doing – Michael loved the Nursery Rhymes too, which was a bonus.  Although he did like to rewind particular bits over and over again – I could sign 5 fat sausages in no time, as this was his particular favourite! As a toddler Michael babbled and squealed away to himself, but would get very frustrated when we did not ‘get’ what he wanted or what he was trying to say.  Understandably his behaviour became a bit of a problem – he would hit out, throw things and try to wreck the house at times.  He was so frustrated.  He had speech therapy – although not nearly enough, and Portage was fab, but his frustrations were growing. He still was not talking and although we knew he understood alot of what we said to him he had real trouble making us understand what he was trying to say – communication was a major difficulty for him.

My Makaton journey began in earnest when Michael started school.   His school used it as a matter of course in line with their total communication approach, and after a term or so he would come home and try to form his hands into funny shapes and get even more cross and annoyed when we did not know what he was trying to say!  He was choosing to sign Makaton, so we needed to up our game.

Michael's first sign was ‘please’ – great, we thought, but it turned out not to be when he ‘please’ ‘please’ ‘pleased’ for everything and we still did not know what he was asking for – we needed signs for everyday things, things that motivated him to communicate with us. We tried photographs and objects of reference to help ease his frustration but he did not always have the patience to wait until we or he found the right pictures or items – signing was more immediate.

I asked at school for some clues. I asked the speech therapist – no-one was running workshops. ‘Where’s the consistent approach in this?’ I thought – Michael was learning how to use Sign to communicate in school but no-one was showing us, his parents, how to sign too!  I had to be proactive and find someone to teach me how to sign. Once School did a short session of Christmas carols – which was great but not good for everyday circumstances and matters of toileting urgency!

At that time Makaton tutors were few and far between and so I spread my search wider and eventually after years of looking and relying on Dave Benson Phillips – I found a Makaton Workshop for Professionals to be run a few miles away from home.  I signed up (pardon the pun!) and completed the foundation workshop over 2 days.  At last I had a bit of an idea about how to do this properly and had some useful vocabulary for everyday needs, and not just for Christmas!

Read part two , where Shona talks about learning Makaton and shares some useful hints and tips.


Shona Chambers

28th January 2014

At home

Do we really need Makaton?

Do we really need Makaton?

Natty and Mia play cardsDepending on where you live in the world, you will most likely be recommended to begin to use a system of signing when your child with additional needs is young. It's not unusual for parents to question the usefulness of Makaton. Portage workers advised us to use Makaton with Natty, but I had very mixed feelings about it at first. This is just our experience, every child's journey is different, but it might answer some questions you have if you're new to signing.

What is Makaton and how can it help you child?

When our eldest was born I knew baby signing was a good idea in theory, but didn't get any further than buying a few books with baby signs in them. She was quick to learn to speak and the need to sign passed. However, when Natty was born and Down's syndrome was identified, Makaton was suggested. Makaton is a language programme using signs and symbols to aid communication. Initially, I questioned whether this was necessary. Was it really essential for Natty's language development? I think I was in denial that she would need additional help at first, and the thought that she might need to use signs to communicate frightened me a little if I'm honest.

Using Makaton can help the whole family communicate

NattyI also remember wondering if maybe the Makaton would actually delay her speech development.

I hear a lot of parents ask the same question, worried in case the signs would be learnt instead of the spoken word. Luckily, my days as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages had taught me that the one way to help adults memorise new vocabulary was by doing as many actions as possible to embed new words. Doing two things at once can only enhance and accelerate language learning.

Imagine that you're at a party. You are introduced to someone new. They tell you their name, 'Hello, I'm Hayley.' Instantly forgotten. But imagine that this Hayley trills 'Hello, I'm Hayley', whilst simultaneously jumping in the air and clapping her hands. Would you be so likely to forget her name then? It's the same reason we learn lyrics to songs more easily than the same words written down in bland text on white paper. It's called kinesthetic learning and children with Down's syndrome tend to be kinesthetic learners. They work best when all the senses are involved. In short, Makaton supports, backs up, speeds up and develops language learning for children with speech delay. It gives two different types of input for every word, which should always be said clearly as well as signed. It's an extra hook to hang the word on if you like.

You don't have to learn a lot of signs at once, because your child will let you know what they want to say, and you will only need 5-10 or so words at a time, so don't be daunted or put off. Natty's first signed words were 'Mum', 'Dad', 'Cake' and 'Chocolate'... quickly followed by 'Chocolate cake!' coupled with a fervent pointing motion at the treats cupboard! So when I had accepted our daughter's needs and pursuaded myself that Makaton really was the right thing to try after speaking to several parents and professionals, we began in earnest.

I can't recall exactly how old she was then, around 18 months, or 2 years old I guess. But here is the next vital point about signing to your child. It will reduce the frustration of the toddler years. This applies to all children, but if your child has language delay and knows what they want to say to you and can't vocalise it they will become frustrated. Very frustrated. Can you imagine being 3 years old and wanting a glass of water and not being able to communicate it? Teaching them to sign these vital needs will not only ease frustration for you both, but will also likely bring about the speech you all crave sooner than not using signs at all. And the beauty of it all is that when your youngster masters a word, they naturally drop the sign. They drop it of their own accord, you don't have to worry or interfere. Signing will not delay or prevent your child from speaking. If your child doesn't verbalise, they still have the benefit of the signs.

There are lots of resources out there to help your child learn Makaton

Natty still reintroduces signs if she is super excited or in a new situation where she needs comfort. If she is over stimulated or being a bit naughty, signing to her focuses her, calms her down and makes her listen to what is being said to her. We use Makaton a lot for more abstract concepts these days, such as colours, emotions and currently Days of the Week. This will continue as long as Natty needs new ideas explaining to her. So, give it a go. Don't be afraid and don't feel overwhelmed, you don't need to learn a lot at once. Seek support if you need it, and learn to love Makaton. After all, without it, how else can you sign across a crowded room to your Mum that you need the toilet, or indicate to her that you want a drink when your mouth is too full of food to talk.

And how else can you emotionally blackmail a parent when they leave for work, unless you can sign 'sad' doefully out of the window as they drive away...

It seems that yes, we do need Makaton.


Read Hayley's blog, Downs Side Up


Hayley G

12th October 2012

At home