Help with Down's syndrome and communication

Young woman using Makaton with a girl who has Down's syndrome while bakingMakaton combines signs, symbols and speech to help people who have Down's syndrome (also known as Down syndrome) with their communication. Using Makaton, children and adults develop language skills enabling them to understand and be understood. Makaton allows individuals with Down's syndrome to communicate effectively using signs and symbols. Many individuals naturally drop the signs and symbols at their own pace, as speech develops.

How does Down's syndrome affect speech?

Children and adults who have Down's syndrome may experience difficulty or delay with their speech, language and communication skills at home or at school. Some associated physical characteristics may affect intelligibility. Research suggests that children with Down's syndrome have stronger receptive language skills than expressive language skills. Communication difficulties vary.

Communication difficulties may include:

  • delayed receptive and expressive language development
  • difficulty with syntax
  • delayed speech development
  • increased chances of hearing loss
  • difficulties with social communication

To find out more visit Down's Syndrome Association

When will a child with Down's syndrome start speaking?

On average, children with Down's syndrome start using words around 16 months, approximately six months later than other children. A child with Down's syndrome may be able to understand more than they are able to express. Professionals such as speech and language therapists can develop programmes to improve vocabulary, receptive and expressive language. Makaton signs and symbols are very often part of these programmes, providing additional ways of communicating and a means of developing important language skills before speech emerges.  For some, these modes of communication become lifelong aids to understanding and expression.

To find a speech and language therapist visit RCSLT - Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists

How does Makaton help people who have Down's syndrome with their communication?

Some individuals who have Down's syndrome may find that Makaton signs and symbols help them to speak. They are used with speech to provide extra visual support about what someone is saying, and there is evidence that using signs can help to make speech clearer. Signs and symbols can be used to make unclear speech more understandable, or as a means of communication in their own right for those with no speech.

Some individuals with Down's syndrome may prefer to use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) as their chosen form of communication. Makaton symbols can be used as PECS.

Makaton aids understanding and allows children and adults to understand concepts and to explain what they wish to say. This can reduce frustration and promote inclusion and independence.

Makaton can help people with Down's syndrome who have difficulty with:

  • conveying their feelings, wants and needs
  • being understood
  • attention and listening
  • visual sequencing memory

With Makaton, individuals with Down's syndrome are able to connect with other people and the world around them, which opens a range of possibilities. Learn more about Makaton

How can Makaton be used in everyday life?

Makaton is extremely flexible, as it can be adapted to suit an individual’s needs and used at a level that works for them.

It can be used for a range of purposes. Some include:

  • sharing thoughts, choices and emotions
  • labelling objects, pictures, photos and places
  • participating in games and songs
  • listening to, reading and telling stories
  • creating recipes, menus and shopping lists
  • writing letters and messages
  • helping people find their way around their environment

Makaton signing is being increasingly used in mainstream and SEN specialist schools to allow all pupils to communicate effectively. Find out how Makaton works

How do I start out with Makaton?

Are you ready to take the first step and start learning Makaton? Getting started with Makaton is fun and easy. The best way to start learning Makaton is to attend Level 1 training . It means that you learn with other people, share your experiences, and practise with others. It also gives you the opportunity to meet and build a relationship with a Makaton Tutor, who can help and support you in the future. Use our quick and easy search tool to find a workshop near you  (both online and face-to-face training is available).

Makaton Membership complements and enhances training with 24/7 digital access to symbols, signs and video tutorials plus the support of our vibrant online forum, MakaChat. Membership is a valuable support tool for family and friends of Makaton Users and professionals who use Makaton in the workplace.

If you prefer to learn at your own pace, in your own time and in your own home, membership  is a great way to begin your Makaton journey. With a choice of Individual and Group Memberships, simply select the Membership that's right for you.

Visit our Membership  area to start your free 7-day trial.