What is Makaton, the communication method Rob Delaney used to read a CBeebies bedtime story?

Rob Delaney used Makaton when he read the CBeebies bed time story last week [Photo: Getty]

Actor Rob Delaney has won praise by delivery a story on CBeebies’ ‘Bedtime Stories’ using Makaton, a version of sign language he used to communicate with his son Henry.

The ‘Catastrophe’ actor was tasked with reading the bedtime story last week and decided to use Makaton in tribute to his son, who tragically passed away in January this year at the age of two after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Before his death, the family used Makaton to converse with Henry, who was left unable to speak after undergoing a tracheotomy.

“Our family learned Makaton to be able to communicate with our son Henry,” the actor explained in a tweet.

“We’re sad Henry isn’t here to see it but we’re happy other families will get to enjoy a story told in Makaton.”

Though over 100,000 children and adults are currently using Makaton many people aren’t yet aware of the communication method.

So what exactly is makaton? Why was it developed and who uses it?

What is Makaton?

According to Gillian Rudd, senior lecturer in speech and language therapy at Birmingham City University, Makaton is a system of signs and symbols that are designed to be used alongside spoken language.

“It is a form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), which is a term used to describe the wide range of communication methods that might be used by individuals who have trouble speaking in the typical way,” she adds.

What’s the difference between Makaton and sign language?

According to the Makaton Charity, Makaton is designed to help hearing people with learning or communication difficulties, using signs and symbols, with speech, in spoken word order.

Sign Language on the other hand is the language of the deaf community in the UK.

It is a naturally evolving language, with its own grammar, word order and has regional variations.

Makaton is used by 100,000 children and adults as a means of communication [Photo: Getty]

Who invented it?

Makaton was first developed in the 1970s by Margaret Walker MBE, Kathy Johnston and Tony Cornforth, speech and language therapists who all worked together at the Royal Association for Deaf people.

The name “Makaton” was created by combining the first syllables of each of their names.

Why is it used?

Gillian Rudd says Makaton is used to support children and adults to better understand what is being said to them and enable them to communicate more effectively with others.

“It is often used to support individuals with communication and/or learning difficulties, but it is also used more widely (e.g. in classrooms, or in the children’s television show ‘Something Special’),” she adds.

Principally Makaton is a language development programme, created to support individuals to communicate as easily and as effectively as possible.

“Language and communication are central to everything we do – it’s how we share our thoughts, feelings and ideas; how we make our needs known; how we ask for help – and so having difficulties in this area can be a frustrating and isolating experience,” Gillian explains.

“For children and adults who have found it difficult to understand what others are saying, or to have their voice heard, it can be a powerful tool to engage with the world around them.”

What are the benefits for parents and children?

According to Gillian the benefits of using Makaton include providing a more successful and enjoyable communication experience (including reduced likelihood of misunderstandings)

Other Makaton pros include:

–    Reduced frustration in both parents and children

–    More positive interactions for both parents and children

–    Development of language and communication skills in children

How can I get involved?

According to family activities app Hoop, thanks to the popularity of sing and sign classes it is becoming much more common to get children signing as well as learning to speak.

“Across the UK there are over 800 different classes featuring sign language,” explains Max Jennings, co-founder of Hoop.

“We have seen an 85% increase in searches over the last twelve months for these classes, such as Sing and Sign, Happy Hands baby sign language and Hartbeeps which are fun classes where children and parents learn to sign through the use of repetition and music,” he adds.

“Learning this skill together early, can help babies and toddlers to communicate using signs to their parents before they develop their speech. This can be an incredibly powerful communication tool for both parents and their kids, and it’s also a fun and rewarding way to spend time as a family.”

For more information about Makaton visit the Makaton Charity: https://www.makaton.org/ 

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