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Makaton - what is it, and how can it help speech development?



Makaton is a language programme using different sign and some symbol forms of communication. Speech is ALWAYS used alongside Makaton signs and/or symbols. Makaton signs are taken/adapted from British Sign Language (sign language used by people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment), and the symbols are simple corresponding line drawings.

What kind of speech problems can Makaton help with?

Makaton can help with a range of communication difficulties, for example: children who have little or no speech; children who have difficulties understanding or remembering what is being said; children whose speech is difficult to understand; and even children whose first language is not English.

Makaton builds on early communication skills such as pointing and gesture and so is known to be an easier form of communication, allowing people with communication difficulties, as well as normally developing children, to express themselves more easily.

Signing can be easier to learn for some children than speech as they find it easier to move their hands into a position than their mouth to form words.

Symbols may be a more appropriate form of communication for some children and can be used in different ways to help with expression (eg, communication aid) or understanding (eg, visual timetable). They can also be used to support literacy skills.


How should schools use Makaton?

SPEAKING, RELEVANT, CONSISTENT, GENERALISED.

  1. Always, always speak when using the Malayan signs. If the child is non-verbal but is signing then the adult fills in the verbal output. Eg; if the child signs ‘thank you’ then the adult signs it too and says thank you at least 3 times to reinforce the verbal words.

  2. Focusing on a small vocabulary of signs which will be useful in that environment is the most useful place to start.

  3. Making sure all the key people know the signs so they can be used consistently is also important. Visual reminders on the wall may help eg the symbol and line drawing of a sign to remind people to use it.

  4. It is also important that the child’s peers, parents, teachers, therapists, etc and anyone they interact with regularly are able to sign to help with forming relationships and using these skills in all situations and not just with certain people.


Some schools have a particular time of day when all the children and teachers are expected to sign, such as during registration. Others set up a small signing group with the child and some of their friends and staff so they can practice signing together. Aim to create a signing environment where everyone is expected to sign key words whenever they speak.




How can parents use it?

If you think Makaton might be suitable for your child, first find out whether signs, symbols or both would be appropriate for your child’s needs by asking your therapist. You may need to contact your local Speech and Language Therapy Service for an assessment of your child’s communication skills.

The Makaton website contains lots of useful resources and information about where you can find Makaton training in your area. Makaton signs are relatively easy to learn and courses offer the opportunity to meet up with other parents and carers who also want to learn Makaton.

If you want to start signing with your child, pick a few signs that will be motivating for your child and that she can use in everyday life and start using them. Also consult your child’s school so t to hat they can use the few signs too. Don’t expect your child to sign back to you straight away; it may take a while for her to learn the signs.



Choosing a sign or symbol of the week that everyone will use can be a fun way to introduce new signs. You could also watch Something Special, a programme on CBeebies which uses Makaton.


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