43 years of Makaton

Ann Cardinal

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 others.

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 some signs.

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!