At home

Ava's Communication Journey

Ava's Communication Journey

Ava with her mum and dad

Ava, with her Mother and FatherOur daughter Ava was born with left sided CDH (Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia) which was undiagnosed until birth. She had this repaired at just 4 days old and spent her first 5 weeks of life in neonatal intensive care and subsequently has a delay in her development, resulting in Ava reaching her milestones much later. Talking is one of those milestones she hasn’t quite reached yet at 4 years old.

Ava’s understanding of what we were saying to her was always there but as she couldn’t say what she wanted to back to us, it was so disheartening as she’s such a happy, smiley little girl, who is cheeky and full of life.

Before starting nursery, Ava would make sounds but would often become very frustrated, very quickly at not being able to communicate successfully with us. Her frustration would mean she would grab and pull us to get our attention or for something she wanted. She would also pinch and push other children on play dates, which was really hard to deal with. It often made me feel very anxious at the thought of having to constantly watch her and be ready to pull her away if she got too ‘handsy’. At times, it felt easier just to say we couldn’t make a play date, just to avoid being in what I felt was an uncomfortable situation.

When Ava started going to nursery in the months before turning 3, she had the 1:1 support from Sarah who is also a Makaton tutor. Sarah would explain the use of Makaton to us but initially we felt that Ava may not be ready to learn and follow a new skill like that, as her attention span was so minimal and she would never hold her attention to any one thing, for more than a matter of seconds. We also thought that it would somehow stop her from speaking.

Ava using Makaton symbols

We noticed as Ava spent more time with Sarah in nursery setting that she would start to use hand gestures at home or physically move us to what she wanted to do or to get something that she needed.

When we would pick Ava up from nursery, Sarah would say what sign(s) they’d been learning that day and we would see that Ava would then start repeating those signs at home. The first signs Ava made were amazing and it felt quite emotional because Ava had a huge beaming smile on her face and you could see her happy, that at last, she could sign something that we understood. She could finally communicate effectively with me and her dad and the more she did, the calmer she seemed to become. It was at this point we felt that it was time we looked at completing Makaton level 1 to gather a better understanding and to be able to use it properly to make a difference to Ava’s communication.

We talked about Makaton with our family and we had a positive reaction, although the grandparents were more apprehensive about trying to learn a new skill and retaining the information. They were also nervous about having to practice the signs in a group setting (even though we are all family and know each other!) and feeling embarrassed if they couldn’t do the sign properly. But the main thing was all the family wanted to come together and do it for Ava as everyone could see it’s the one thing that seemed to be working for her communication.

Ava reading a book

We did level 1 Makaton over two sessions which worked really well. Once we got into the sessions, everyone settled in and felt so comfortable with Sarah’s teaching, we had a laugh whilst learning and everyone felt happy they’d given it a go and actually learnt some!

Since completing level 1 and incorporating Makaton into our daily lives, Ava’s so happy and the frustration has disappeared!

Now, Ava can sign what she needs; food she wants to eat, whether she needs a drink, what she’d like to watch on tv, what she wants to play with, where she wants to go; the list seems endless now, whereas before we’d struggle to know any of that. She can go and play at grandparents and they understand what she wants now, they also have grown with confidence in using Makaton and have even carried on watching extra Makaton videos to help.

Ava has settled very well into nursery and is thriving. Nursery and the early years staff at the setting have also completed Makaton level 1 and 2, which has been amazing. Ava uses Makaton naturally and is saying the words alongside signing, with many more new words coming, whilst developing new sounds. She tries so hard to repeat a word you say to her and her confidence in talking is growing so much, she is very vocal and jabbers away in her own language a lot now, practicing sounds! It’s so lovely to hear and we’re so happy for her that she finally feels understood. We also feel very proud of her for all the progress she’s made. The future for her communicating doesn’t seem quite so daunting, we’re excited!

Written by Natalie –
Mum of the gorgeous Ava 😊



17th November 2023

At home

Rui’s Makaton Story

Rui’s Makaton Story

Kaley, Rui, and Nick

KaleyIn honour of Neurodiversity celebration week, I wanted to share with you why this following quote from Ignacio Estrada really resonates with me:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

When my son, Rui, was one years old, he was diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay (GDD). GDD is an early onset chronic neurological condition. It’s an umbrella term used when children are significantly delayed in multiple areas of development such as motor skills, speech, cognitive and social and emotional development.

Rui was delayed, and still is in some areas, reaching his developmental milestones. He crawled at 22 months, walked at 26 months, and was able to jump recently at the age of four, but is still preverbal, not having spoken a single word yet or consistently made any symbolic sounds.

When Rui was two, my husband, Nick, and I had some advice to try using Makaton. Makaton is a communication tool which uses signs and symbols that supports the development of essential communication skills such as attention and listening, comprehension, memory, recall and organisation of language and expression. When using Makaton, you always speak while you sign or use symbols to make the link between the sign/symbol and the spoken word.

Putting myself in Rui’s shoes; every day he can’t say how he is feeling, tell me if he’s hungry, if he’s in pain, or if he wants to play. I could also see that other children didn’t want to play with him at times. What did they get out of playing with Rui who didn’t understand their games or was not able to speak back to them. It would break my heart and as his Mom I needed to try everything I could to get him heard, be understood, and feel included. I’d already picked some Makaton up from the CBeebies TV programme ‘Something Special’ and enjoyed learning it from that, but now I had a real reason to implement it at home. We hoped it would hopefully reduce Rui’s frustrations and regular meltdowns while we wait for the speech to come.

Learning Makaton

Kaley, Ryi, and NickTo start with, learning Makaton was a daunting task. I put a lot of pressure on us as parents to get it right. I wanted to learn all the signs in a short space of time, but Rui was so little and unsurprisingly not interested in taking note of what I was trying to teach him yet, so then it began to feel like an impossible task and at times, a waste of time.

Keen to stick with it, we took some of the pressure off and focused on five key functional Makaton signs, and consistently used them for a year. It wasn’t until Rui was three, he began to show an interest in watching my hands and then one day he just signed ‘milk’ back to me. It was amazing! This was my preverbal child telling me something that he wanted without crying or pointing for the very first time. I was elated. He’d worked out he can ask for something and someone understands what he is communicating. He is being heard! Soon after ‘milk’, he learnt to sign ‘more’ and then ‘snack’. We were making progress.

With Rui now showing some interest in Makaton, Nick and I, along with Nanny and Grandad, as well as Rui’s key workers at nursery, signed up to complete a Level 1 and Level 2 Makaton course. It was Tuesday nights for the next 10 weeks, but it would be so important for us as a family and potentially Rui’s future. Empowered with the learnings from the course, we gradually implemented more Makaton signs into our day-to-day activities with Rui, and his Makaton vocabulary has been growing ever since. Around Rui’s 4th birthday, five months ago, Rui signed ‘Mommy’ for the first time. Having never heard him say Mommy, something that I use to long for, it really melted my heart. I love that Makaton has provided us a means to communicate with Rui. It’s helped Rui understand routines, feel understood and ultimately helped him feel included. His temperament has really changed over the last year too. He is much calmer (he can still get upset and we have the very occasional meltdown) but he has shown huge developments in his intellectual understanding. It has really blown us away.

Rui is such a happy, playful, and cheeky boy. He can now use Makaton to play games, and joke around with us. His speech development is always going to be a slow journey, but he’s recently made some symbolic sounds and is attempting new sounds with his mouth, which is progress. He is now also having speech and language therapy.

Because Makaton has brought so much joy into our family life, earlier this year, Nick and I started an Instagram account called ‘Parents_Who_Makaton’ (@parents_who_makaton), so we can share what we’ve learnt with easy to digest, bitesize video clips. If we can help even just one family experiencing a similar situation it would just be so wonderful.

We sadly don’t live in a world where everyone knows Makaton, but it’s great to raise awareness (something I’m very passionate about) and to share stories of other ways some children and adults need to communicate. I still hope Rui will be able to speak one day for his own overall development and wellbeing, but the thought of him never finding his spoken voice doesn’t worry me as much anymore, because I know there there are more and more people and businesses out there willing to be more inclusive, trying to make positive change, and see learning difficulties as learning differences.

So how I relate to the Ignacio Estrada quote is that my child can’t speak the way we speak, so let’s communicate another way. And we do!


Kaley Gent

Operations and Delivery Manager

21st April 2023

At home

From Baby Signing to Talking Teenager (Part 1)

From Baby Signing to Talking Teenager (Part 1)

About us

Dean family Our family Makaton journey probably first started over 20 years ago when I explored signing for babies after my elder son was born. We then delved further as our younger son William arrived 5 years later. William has Down syndrome, autism plus several medical conditions. He has a hearing loss and has been wearing hearing aids since a baby.

Like many parents we learned Makaton to use at home. I recall we started to sign quite early on with William, then stopped as I couldn’t see William signing back and got quite disheartened. Other kids we knew around his age were picking up signs faster and doing better than him but they did not have his complex health issues going on. We watched Mr Tumble and Singing Hands together then I restarted doing more with him having attended Makaton training and feeling empowered and encouraged by parents of older children who recommended to just keep going. William started to sign, but at a slower pace and in his own way. Makaton and signing remain a big part of his life today as his speech development has been slow. We rely on a mixture of speech, signs and written words. Our use of Makaton has switched focus as he’s grown older to be more age related, be around encouraging communication, choices as well as preparing for adulthood.

My family is the one behind Special iApps C.I.C. as we’ve been developing educational apps for children with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities since 2011. During the coronavirus pandemic we started working closely with The Makaton Charity and you can read more about this here Special iApps Collaboration, and also what Sarah and Alfie thought of the The Makaton and Special iApps partnership.

If you’d want to introduce Makaton and are looking for tips, then I’d repeat the advice given to me a long time ago.

  • Make it fun, as we all learn more if we enjoy the experience
  • Take it easy, introduce one sign at a time that is meaningful to your family then practice and pace yourself
  • Use it daily, and incorporate throughout your day weaving signs within your routines
  • Keywords, pick out those key words and signs you need for your child you can then build them up to use more together as your child grows and develops
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition, practice, practice and practice
  • Find a signing buddy, as it’s good to share with someone going through the same thing at the same time and these friendships can last a while, even a lifetime!
  • One more thing I would add is that your child and your family are unique. Don’t compare. It’s hard not to as we as parents do, but each child is different. You will get a lot of advice from others (both parents and professionals), some of which may just fit into place, others might not. Never be afraid to try, and if you do stop or pause then take a break but do try again. Always give things a second chance and find your own pace that works for your family.

    At the very start we learned a handful of signs as and when we needed them and learned more as time went on and William progressed. Over the years I’ve met families whose children signed in their early years and then stopped as they started to talk. For us, with William, it’s been the long haul. Signing is still part of our daily lives seventeen years on as we use it when we need to. Makaton isn’t just for babies but for adults too and covers all aspects of life as children grow into teenagers and then into adulthood. There are some fantastic resources available these days, much more than when we first started our journey. I continue to find new things to do with Makaton and find new resources and realise that there was a lot I didn’t know which I wish I did when he was younger and can also see a lot more that is available and that we can use with him now. Learning is lifelong, so we continue our journey…

    Beverley Dean MBE, Founder of Special iApps C.I.C.
    [email protected]

    See also


Beverley Dean MBE

13th March 2023

At home

From Baby Signing to Talking Teenager (Part 3)

From Baby Signing to Talking Teenager (Part 3)

William’s signing journey

Dean family As parents of a child who has Down syndrome, we were advised to learn to sign and start signing with William when he was just a few months old. The message was the same from other parents that we met in support groups as well as the professionals involved in William’s early intervention program.

We attended Makaton training, checking out our local library for resources, as well as buying and borrowing resources. Adding resources to his Christmas, Easter and Birthday present lists for families and friends to buy.

At the beginning we started to incorporate signing as a family at home and when out and about. Just a few key signs to start with such as “milk”, “drink”, “mummy” and “William”. I printed Makaton Symbols and put them around the house, so the toilet door had symbols and words for ‘toilet’ and ‘nappy’ (it still does today!). Sometimes this acted as a prompt for me to remember to sign during the day, not just for his benefit to see the symbol and word, but mine as well.

Something Special with Mr Tumble was new to CBeebies. In one episode we saw Singing Hands for the first time. We bought Mr Tumble and Singing Hands DVDs and signed up to local Makaton training. We also had in our collection Makaton Nursery Rhymes by Dave Benson Phillips and added Shabang and other resources as we found them. We would watch DVDs together, and so learned signs largely through songs and nursery rhymes at home as this was a really good way to repeat the actions and remember them. We joined Singing & Signing sessions with other children who had Down syndrome.

William was slow to sign, when he started he would make signs up. Many kids do. I recall we went to a Pantomime arranged by Down syndrome North East when William was just starting to sign himself. At the theatre as we sat down in our row, he started to repeatedly sign Gorilla. We were confused. There was no Gorilla at this pantomime. It hadn’t even started. Then it dawned on us. We were watching Cinderella and William did not know the sign for Cinderella, so he used what he thought best. A sign he did know from what the word sounded like. He was hearing the word endings where ‘Gor-illa’ was like ‘Cinder-ella’. We clapped and cheered and celebrated William’s drive and initiative to communicate to us, as it was one sign that came from nowhere, probably the only sign he had made that day! It’s much easier these days to check what signs are for new words you encounter and check signs that you don’t know or are not sure of as you can easily look them up on your phone. We asked other parents what the correct sign for Cinderella was. We then repeated the right sign to use and repeated it over and over again. We then went a further step, stringing more signs together to support the transition and re-enforcement. ‘Yes’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Good’. William would sign back ‘Gorilla’ ‘Good’ accompanied by a big smile on his face. It turned out to be a little while before Cinderella was not a Gorilla in our house. His speech therapist was amused but told us that he needed to use a sign or say a word correctly more times than he did incorrectly to reinforce, associate and remember the right one.

Another time that springs to mind was when we visited a friend, and William kept signing ‘fountain’. He was obsessed with water and fountains. We were confused as could not see a fountain and explained we were indoors, there was no fountain, putting it down to his obsession. Then from the corner of my eye I realised I was in the wrong, as saw an ornament that was indeed a fountain, battery operated complete with flowing water sitting on the windowsill slightly hidden by the curtain. I quickly learned to watch and wait before correcting William’s signs. He was seeing the world differently to me, so sometimes when I didn’t understand his signs, or they didn’t make sense in context the best thing was to wait and observe him and our surroundings, by looking at what he was gazing at often at his eye-level and where his focus or attention lay. He was starting to sign to communicate and needed positive encouragement, so I needed to learn patience before jumping to conclusions.

Children are like sponges. It wasn’t just me and William learning Makaton but also William’s elder brother Joseph who would sign to his baby brother and me. He is a very good Makaton signer today as has kept up and regularly practices. When they are together, they talk a lot about what they have been doing and use Makaton throughout. It’s important everyone around William knows Makaton. William had a new PA (personal assistant). She attended Makaton training after supporting him for a few months. It was interesting talking afterwards as she had thought William was making quite a few hand gestures but having been on training realised he was talking to her using sign language. It’s made a big difference in them understanding each other.

Looking back now, incorporating signing into our life has empowered William to communicate with his hands. We believe it has reduced frustration and has also developed his communication skills. He doesn’t sign everything perfectly and he doesn’t always sign but when we struggle to understand each other we fall back to signing and we can communicate and understand each other. He has a very large bank of signs today and can remember and sign practically anything you ask when prompted by saying ‘What’s the sign for…?’ I’m often impressed with what he has remembered and the breadth of his knowledge.

We are not at the start of our journey anymore, if you are I would say that at first it can be hard work. You may have a new baby, and this is a life changing experience. All babies are different and if yours has medical conditions then that adds to the load. Supporting a child with sign language may at times seem like a steep learning curve. Remember everyone is learning something new as you and your baby learn together. Everyone is adding something new to their daily routine, if it gets too much step back and take it one step at a time. Taking up signing and using it in your day-to-day life does need commitment, especially when your child isn’t signing back but I’d say stick to it as it can take a long time before you see the rewards. I agree with what others said to me when I was at the beginning of our journey. Be persistent, practice and start off with small manageable steps. There was a long time when we signed to William, but he didn’t sign back. He watched and understood us but did not sign himself as did not have the fine or gross motor skills to do so. I’m really pleased we persisted, believe me there were times when I wondered if it was worth it and times that I did stop and pause, but then we picked it up again. Now, I know the positive benefits Makaton has had for him and how it continues to do so. Makaton still has a place in his life with our new perception as a teenager. It’s helping him transition into adult life, continue developing speech and communication, life skills and independence, enjoy singing and signing and this happens both at home and at school since he's in a Special School 6th Form.

Beverley Dean MBE, Founder of Special iApps C.I.C.
[email protected]

See also


Beverley Dean MBE

3rd March 2023

At home

From Baby Signing to Talking Teenager (Part 2)

From Baby Signing to Talking Teenager (Part 2)

Baby signing is for any child

William as a babyOur eldest son, Joseph, was born in 1999. It was when he was around 6 months old that I first encountered and learnt about baby signing. I vividly recall being in my kitchen, standing at the counter as I prepared his lunch watching him as he sat in his highchair and talking to him throughout. But something was different. This was the first time I saw him frustrated. As I made lunch, I talked away to him (as usual) but he was getting quite agitated, becoming more and more frustrated which was so unusual for him. Normally he would be happily playing and watching me whilst I prepared our lunch. A number of things were going through my head, “was he starving and just couldn’t wait?”, “was he thirsty?”, “did he want something different to eat?”, “did he want a toy?”, “did he need a nappy change?”, “was he too hot? or too cold?”, “did he have a pain?”, “was he ill?”…

I talked. He got more frustrated. I then started picking things up to show him so I could see his reaction. “Are you thirsty?” as I held his bottle. “Are you hungry?” as I held a banana, then showing him his teddy and toy car it was obvious didn't want either neither... I repeatedly asked, “What do you want?”, and he repeatedly pointed elsewhere making frustrated babbling noises. It was obvious that he wanted something, but I simply did not know what and could not work it out. I couldn’t see quite what he was pointing at and did not understand his babbling. It was frustrating for us both. In the end I gave up, took him out of his highchair, put him in his pushchair and we went for a long walk.

I just didn't understand what he was trying to communicate, it saddened me as I had snapped and said, ‘Just talk to me!’ which was unrealistic expecting him to be able to talk at his age. I mulled it all over in my mind as I pushed his buggy. I had previously read an article on baby signing and decided to explore further when I got home. Research I did and yes it confirmed signing was a fantastic way to communicate early with babies before they developed speech. Joseph didn’t have a learning difficulty; in fact he was the opposite (as we later found out that he was gifted and talented). At the time we did not know this, I was a new mum and simply wanted to try signing with him so that we could communicate. It made sense, so I bought a book, learnt a few basic signs, “eat”, “banana”, “milk”, “drink” and eagerly started. As the months past we incorporated signing into our routine and had fun together. Joseph started to talk, our need to use sign language dwindled so quickly phased out of our lives as his speech was rapidly developing. I gave the signing book to a friend who was intrigued by learning more about baby signing as at the time it was a relatively new concept. Remember this was over 20 years ago.

I didn't think about baby signing until five years later. We knew William our younger son had Down syndrome before he was born. Knowing this allowed us to do a bit of background reading before he arrived. A friend pushed a flyer through my door about a conference organised by our local Down syndrome parent support group. We registered for the event when I was pregnant and attended it when William was just 3 months old. Signing was on the agenda, and it brought back a few memories, so I was quite keen to start again from scratch with both my boys. This time with an older sibling to try things out on was a bonus!

The message was clear. Research showed that children with Down syndrome benefit from a signing environment and that using sign does not delay speech development. Engaging in any form of communication and language will help with brain development. Both professionals and parents we met endorsed this from their experience with their own children. We learned that speech development varies from child to child and as spoken words develop, children start to replace signing with spoken words and transitions from sign to speech. “Couldn't be easier“, I thought at the time, but second time round would turn out to be a very different experience for me as I wasn’t using it to support communication with an able gifted and talented child but with one who had a learning difficulty and complex needs.

William started his early intervention program around 4 months. He was in and out of hospital has had several operations. We started to have input from his Speech Therapist and his Portage worker as well as his Physio once settled at home. William was then diagnosed with a severe hearing impairment, so we met his Teacher of the Deaf who directed us again to Makaton. William got his first pair of hearing aids to wear which we knew from his reaction to sounds worked. He wasn’t hearing much if at all without them. He wore them daily and the message from everyone was the same “Learn to sign and start signing to him now. It’s best if everyone in the family learned to sign. Don’t give up as he will take longer to sign back to you”.

You can read about how William progressed with learning to signing as a baby and as he grew up to be a teenager in Part 3 .

Beverley Dean MBE, Founder of Special iApps C.I.C.
[email protected]

See also


Beverley Dean MBE

13th March 2023

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

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

Pixie's Makaton journey

Pixie's Makaton Journey

Pixie with her son

Pixie has been using Makaton since 2007, at first attending workshops and using resources on the website. She has then worked through the Makaton Workshops to become a Makaton Signing for Babies and Families Trainer and recently trained to become a Makaton Tutor. Pixie embraces Makaton into her family and work life, enthusiastically encouraging others to the benefits of using Makaton to support.

Pixie with her son

I first heard about Makaton in a training newsletter from my local council back in 2007. I then completed my first Makaton Workshop when I was working in a pre-school. The other courses I found using your fabulous website, until I met a wonderful tutor Marina Horrocks who really went “above and beyond” in her ongoing support with my training and Makaton use. Marina took me through everything from my Level 3 upwards and wrote my recommendation letter from Tutor Training. I literally couldn’t have got this far without her and will be forever grateful to her for all of her help and support.

On my Tutor Training it was a real pleasure being trained by Tracy Clark and Sarah Howard, and having such a supportive group of fellow trainees! Since then I’ve had the opportunity and felt really privileged to join Zanna Finnerty, Amanda Glennon and Kerry Crawley on Makaton Signing for Babies and Families Study Days, which has been so beneficial for my CPD. They were great fun and I would highly recommend them to other MSB (MSBF) trainers.

I am very eagerly awaiting the Train the Trainer Course for the revised Using Makaton with Singing to enable me to teach this one as a Tutor too. Singing is a huge part of our family and work life here and Singing Hands play a massive role in that – thank you Suzanne and Tracy! As well as being a Makaton Tutor we also use Makaton at home as a family and at work in my Makaton Friendly Early Years setting. My son was born prematurely and having me as a Mummy he was immediately welcomed into a world of Makaton all day, every day, even when the other children I was caring for went home. He first signed “please” at 6 months old when he wanted some pudding! And now at two, he is able to put several signs together and has a huge repertoire of signs. His understanding is phenomenal for his age and I credit this to Makaton signing, as it enabled him to grasp concepts and prepositional language much earlier.

Watching Singing HandsWe use signs in general conversation consistently all day. We have taught lots of signs to Daddy, and Grandma is working through her Makaton Signing for Babies and Families course. We also use signs and symbols at story times, singing times, to make choices (particularly at snack and mealtimes) as well as in games and activities. We attend the lovely Tracy’s Singing Hands class on a Wednesday which is just fantastic and my son loves watching their DVD’s and videos on YouTube, they are literal celebrities in our house!

My lovely husband is in the military and, unfortunately, spends a great deal of time away from us. However, Makaton has been an absolute Godsend during these times too. Sometimes, he his completely unreachable, but when he has Wi-Fi we are able to show him new signs and hold two way conversations. When he was younger, it meant my little one was able to use sign to communicate to Daddy, when he had no speech at all, and that was something truly magical to observe. It enabled them to maintain their wonderful relationship even though they were thousands of miles apart.

Makaton has a huge impact on early communication. With 18 years of Early Years experience and a degree in Children’s Learning, Development and Support myself, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be without it. It works absolute wonders in easing frustrations, gives children a voice from so early on and has had such a massive impact on my own child’s levels of understanding. I cannot recommend Makaton highly enough. I would love to get every Early Years setting using it daily and recognising it’s tremendous benefits on children’s early language and communication skills.

If you are thinking about attending Makaton Training I would say absolutely go for it, you will not be disappointed. You cannot put a price on giving someone a voice. Please do remember though that, just like speech, it takes time for users to establish and to persevere with it so don’t give up! Once your user finds their voice with Makaton it will all be worth it.


Pixie N

20th April 2022

At home

Kirsty's Makaton Journey

Kirsty's Makaton Journey

Kirsty with Level 3 certificateMy name is Kirsty. I have a learning disability and autism. 

I wanted to learn Makaton to help me communicate with people who I go to day services who use it and people who live in the same supported living flats that I live in. At one of my day activities I’ve started to communicate with a Makaton user and last week they gave me a really big hug to show they were happy with me signing to them.

I did Level 1, 2 and 3 with Nic Pike who runs relaxed sessions for people who have additional needs. This was perfect for me because it was spread over 8 weeks and I didn’t feel overwhelmed by it. I am planning on doing Level 4 with her later this year. I also joined her weekly club and met other people with disabilities like myself. It was nice we could all get together online. I also attend Singing Hands choir once a month which regularly refreshes my mind signing and singing

It’s really important to me that I can learn Makaton and communicate with people who use it. I go to day services and clubs that Makaton users attend and I want to be able to say hello to them. Or ask them their name. It's really important to me that I can talk to everyone who goes not just the people who can talk.

I joined the Makaton website and had a free membership at first. Then I got a free trial after I had done my level one training. I really liked it because I could look up symbols and signs I forgot and see them. You can see the pictures of the symbols and the pictures and videos of the signs. The videos are really helpful. I like the symbols and I have downloaded them to make easy read recipes for me to use at home. It’s nice when my friends come round and we use them to cook together.

I downloaded the Rainbow Bunting and signs sheet for Pride month as I am part of the LGBTQ+ community and it was really fantastic Makaton made resources for this. I have downloaded other resources as well to learn new words like the one of the summer signs and the advent calendar at Christmas. There is lots and lots on there that helps me learn and is also fun.

Kirsty signing the letter PWith the cost of living and all my bills going up I was worried about being able to continue to do Level 4 and have my membership to the Makaton library. There are lots of things on there which help and I want to do my Level 4 this year. One of the staff from the company who supports me is a Makaton Tutor and she found me a link through Mencap to apply for funding to use for either my level four or membership so I can continue to learn, attend sessions and access the resources. They helped me complete the application and I found out this week my application was successful and I have been given a grant. I didn’t know I could get anything like a grant or help for things like this. I feel very lucky and I wanted to share my story.

I am really happy I can continue my Makaton journey and be able to communicate with people who use it. I’m excited to do my Level 4 and keep using the library to check signs and download symbols to make my recipe collection bigger and bigger. And I am excited to see what more things like the Pride resources Makaton make in the future for me to download.

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!


Kirsty S

29th June 2022

At home

Makaton is for everyone

Makaton is for everyone


AbigailMy name is Abigail and am 27 years old. I was diagnosed with learning disabilities and other medical issues.

My Makaton journey started back in January 2022 when I started to become interested in learning Makaton. I have learnt over 100 or more signs so far, and I am doing absolutely incredibly at it! This has continued through watching Singing Hands DVDs too, which has been amazing: hopefully by the end of 2022 this continues throughout the coming months and years.

I can’t believe how well I am doing as an adult with disabilities. Makaton has become my absolute favourite thing do.

This journey is going to be incredible, Makaton is for everyone not just those with a speech delay. If you want to learn something new, try Makaton; it has made a difference in my life and especially the people around me.

Thank you

Love Abigail xxx


Read Abigail's next blog: Darlington Association on Disability



10th May 2022

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

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

The Makaton and Special iApps partnership

The Makaton and Special iApps partnership

About me

My Makaton journey started when I had my son Alfie back in 2014. Alfie has DS (Down Syndrome). I conducted lots of research into language programmes to assist and enhance his speech development and communication and discovered the amazing world of Makaton! I started with 'Makaton Signing for Babies' and then progressed onto Mr Tumble, Dave Benson Philips and the fabulous Signing Hands. My passion for Makaton was ignited as I saw first-hand the fantastic effect it had on Alfie. Enabling him to have a voice and relieving his frustrations, caused by lack of verbal communication skills. It allowed him to be included within his school and be able to communicate with staff and his peers. It has also really bought his speech development on. This then led to me deciding that I wanted to progress further with Makaton so signed up to do my Level 1, 2, 3 and 4 Workshops.

In October 2021 I started 'Makaton With Alfie: What's It All About Alfie' across all the major social media sites, were Alfie and I post daily Makaton Sign videos in order to spread awareness for Makaton far and wide. The next natural step for me was to do my Makaton Tutor Training, which I successfully completed in September 2022, which then led me to start my business 'Sarah The Makaton Tutor' ( I want to enable as many people across as many settings and environments as possible to be able to 'Talk Makaton'.

The Makaton and Special iApps partnership

As well as using Makaton with Alfie to help give him his voice and to develop his speech so his communication frustrations are removed, I also use Makaton to support his school learning, as does his school. Alfie attends mainstream Junior’s.

I use Makaton to help him with his spellings, reading, sentence formation, maths and subject topics, so I’m always looking for ways this can be more easily implemented.

I was already using the full suite of Special iApps with Alfie to supplement his learning, so I was really happy when I learnt of the partnership between Makaton and Special iApps. This new partnership is absolutely perfect as it really helps to embed his learning, allowing him to ‘experience success’ due to his prior knowledge and awareness of Makaton Symbols.

To get the maximum benefit from this partnership I have bought the three-device membership. I have it set up on my iPad at home that Alfie uses, my mobile phone (so we have access when we’re out and about, sat waiting for hospital appointments etc) and the 3rd device is his iPad he uses at school. We can do independent learning at home & at school, or I can reinforce and further embed his school learning by working on the topics he is currently learning.

We also love the facility to generate your own tailored resources. Alfie loves using the Special iApps resources. They are truly user friendly, and he is even teaching me different things to find within them on a daily basis! Its official, I’m being ‘out-teched’ by my nearly 9-year-old! For the best results from this partnership, I’d highly recommend having the Makaton Premium membership package as that entitles you to have fuller access to all the Makaton Symbols from the Core Vocabulary within the Special iApps resources.

I can’t praise this partnership enough and both Alfie and I look forward to what else develops from it in the future.

By Sarah & Alfie Case

Click here to learn more about the Makaton and Special iApps Partnership



Sarah Case

13th January 2023

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