Last night I started the Makaton training course that my work was offering to parents and people who work with children with disabilities. I went along for a couple of reasons:
1. Because of my role as Social Worker/Family Service Coordinator, and
2. Because I really wanted to learn the signs for my own personal use.
I am lucky that the Speechie running it let me slip in!
So what did I learn, and what the hell is Makaton anyway?
Makaton is an alternative form of communication that is mainly used to assist children with disabilities. It is not often used as the main form of communication, as the idea is that children can either use speech or some picture cards or even a communication device.
Speech is such a difficult motor task and takes a lot of planning. Not only does it require your brain to send the messages to your mouth, but you also need your lungs to work, your tongue, your jaw and your mouth. Hard work when you have low muscle tone, seizures to contend with, and a body that doesn't do what it is told!
Makaton uses key word signs to assist a person in expressing themselves, as well as helping them understand what someone is telling them. Most people are visual learners, and often the spoken word is forgotten as quickly as it is heard. This is particularly true for kids! By having the key word signed as well, you are giving kids a much better chance of understanding, because a visual can last as long as you need it to.
Starting to make sense?
Makaton doesn't work for every child with a disability. Your little one does need to have some ability to form the signs with their hands. In Ryley's case, he doesn't have the motor control to coordinate the signs, but he can do his own version of some of them, and I know with practise everyday of the main ones, he will get there!
The other thing I have noticed with Ryley is that his understanding is so much better when I use key word signs. So for example, he is responding really well to the sign for "wait". Great when encouraging turn taking during games!
If anyone is considering Makaton to help give their child an opportunity to communicate, then please ask the important people in your lives to learn the signs too. There is no point in giving your child this great tool for communication if they can only use it at home with one or two people. It's like telling you that you can only talk at home, all other times you must remain silent. How on earth could we get our point across?
We don't expect that Ryley will ever be verbal. We know he can't. He has too much damage done to that part of the brain (from the seizures). But we are really trying to help him communicate. Hopefully this will help a little.
For more info either ask your speechie, early intervention centre or visit: http://www.newcastle.edu.au/centre/sed/makaton/