Makaton SA

What is Makaton?

Makaton is a language program that supports the communication, language development and literacy development of people with communication challenges.

Who uses Makaton?

Makaton can be used by anyone, with any form of communication or language development difficulty. This includes, but is by no means limited to:

  • Children and adults who struggle to speak and / or understand properly, for a variety of different reasons, for example:
    • Autism
    • Down syndrome
    • Cerebral Palsy
    • Traumatic Brain injuries (motor vehicle accidents, strokes, aneurysms etc)
    • Cognitive challenges
    • Dementia sufferers
  • People learning a foreign language. Did you know that learning language with gestures, of any kind, increases memory retention by up to 90%?
  • Babies who haven’t learnt to speak yet. By using Makaton signing, they can learn to express their wants and needs before they can speak. They will stop signing as soon as they can make themselves understood using speech. In addition, babies that are at risk of developing communication or language challenges benefit from early intervention.

How Makaton Works

Communication does not just involve speaking. Just watch someone who is having a conversation; they will not only be saying words but they will also be using hand movements or gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and body language (posture and movement). All this is communication.

Makaton uses speech with signs (gestures) and symbols (pictures) to help people communicate.  We also use facial expression, eye contact and body language to give as much extended information as possible.

The Makaton South Africa signs are based on the signs of South African Sign Language (SASL).

The Benefits of Makaton are many and include...

  • Empowering those who can’t/ don’t speak or whose speech is unclear, with another way to communicate, which not only increases social connection but decreases frustrations and anxiety as well as increases confidence and feelings of inclusion.
  • Making a message visual, making it clearer and more understandable for those who need additional support to understand or for those who learn differently i.e. visual versus auditory learners.
  • Slowing speech down, making language in general more understandable for those who take a little longer to process information or for those learning or listening to a new language.

In the Makaton language program/ communication system, signs are used with speech in the order of spoken language.  Using signs can help people who have no speech or whose speech is unclear. Research has shown that signs and gestures are initially easier to learn than spoken words. (McGregor KK, Rohlfing KJ, Bean A, Marschner E. 2009. Gesture as a support for word learning: the case of under. J Child Lang. 36(4):807-28.). This makes sense. Babies use gestures before they can speak, to tell us what they want. For example, they might point at the biscuit tin or hold out their arms to be lifted up. Babies, children and adults can use Makaton to let others know what they want, make choices, share information and understand more. This helps build and develop important communication and language skills.

The Makaton symbols are used to support communication in many different ways as well. Using symbols can help people who have limited speech and who struggle with creating the signs (motor issues) as well as those who cannot or prefer not to sign.

Children and adults who have difficulty understanding and speaking often become frustrated or withdrawn. Young children may communicate this through behaviours such as screaming and kicking. Older children and adults may shout or hurt themselves and/ or others. By using Makaton, we are enabling them to communicate in a more acceptable way and through improved communication, reducing their negative behaviours.

Who should learn Makaton?

Anyone who teaches, works (or could potentially work with) and/ or lives with, cares for or knows someone who struggles to communicate, can learn Makaton. In other words, everyone.

As communication begins with understanding language, Makaton should be included into everyday, normal conversation to support understanding, long before it is used for expression.

Once understanding becomes a little easier, the use of signs as a way of communicating will begin. However, this process can take months depending on the person you are communicating with. Be patient! Everyone learns at their own pace.

The most important things to remember when starting out are:

  • Consistency is key – when you use a sign try to remember to use it each time you say the word.
  • Start slowly – you are BOTH learning. Don’t overwhelm yourself or you will overwhelm everyone and there will be no motivation to continue.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. If you forget to sign or if you forget the specific sign for a word, start again where you left off. Feel free to give Makaton SA a call or drop us an email if you have forgotten a sign! We’ll soon get you up and running again.
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