43 years of Makaton. Time to reflect...
I had the great fortune
of attending the very first Makaton workshop at Botleys Park Hospital
in 1976, very shortly after my arrival in the UK from Sweden. This was
run by its inspiring creator Margaret Walker (who took the project
forward) and to whom I owe so much. Having struggled to teach some of
the Paget Gorman Signs to an adult with a learning disability living in a
large hospital outside Norwich it became obvious that Makaton would be
the solution to improving his communication as well as that of so many
Work opportunities for this client group were seen as
essential even in those early days. One deaf lady had a job in the
kitchen of a department store. Staff welcomed the opportunity to learn
After moving to Folkestone a few years later, my first
speech and language therapy post involved preverbal communication with
children who had profound and complex needs. Basic Makaton was
essential. I also worked in an SLT clinic where children with
significant language delay benefitted greatly from sign support.
However, in those days there was a fair bit of scepticism from some
parents (“we want our child to speak, not sign”).
I recall two
particular sets of parents of babies with Down’s Syndrome. One couple
embraced Makaton, attended evening workshops that I set up and used
signs consistently with their son. The other parents rejected signing
outright and discharged their son from SLT. Fast forward about 30 years
to my retirement years, these two by now young men both attended a Sing
and Sign session that I ran, accompanied by my husband at the keyboard.
The young man who had been immersed in Makaton was now an articulate and
confident person who no longer used signs. He wanted to be in the
group because of the singing and the drum kit! The other young man had
very limited understanding and poor speech. (Clearly other factors may
have played their part in this difference!)
From my Norwich days I
had wanted to return to working with Adults (LD) again. In the early
1980s there was no SLT service in South Kent for these people. I secured
some sessions in a local day centre and from there the referrals
started coming in from across the district. Having no car I got around
on a bike and train for a bit, but I finally bought a car. This opened
up opportunities for running evening Makaton workshops across our health
district. These were initially “Open House” sessions run on seven
evenings with up to 50 people attending.
In 1988 I trained as a
Regional Tutor. The team of SLTs working in ALD expanded, as did the
number of tutors. It was a dynamic team keen to work on training across
services and enhance communication skills amongst health and social
services colleagues. One of the last Makaton projects I was involved in
before my retirement from SLT was the development of the Makaton Health
Communication Pack in collaboration with Makaton, following GP training
across East Kent.
So 45 years later...
- Gone are the days of extensive hand written letters by Margaret Walker.
- We have a culture where signing is lauded and applauded.
- It is my time to say goodbye.
Thank you Makaton for enriching my life!