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

Kaley Gent
March 5, 2024

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

This quote from Ignacio Estrada really resonates with me and I’ll tell you why…

Our beautiful, now five year old boy, Rui, who was diagnosed with Global Development Delay (GDD; significantly delayed in multiple areas of development) at the age of one, and more recently has received a diagnosis of Autism just before his 5th Birthday, is preverbal and can’t currently verbally communicate. Our family have had to learn to speak another way, and that way is Makaton.

Makaton is a multimodal communication tool, using signs and/or symbols with speech, in spoken word order, to support the development of essential communication skills such as attention and listening, comprehension, memory, recall and organisation of language and expression.

When Rui was two years old, we received advise from a SENCo to look into using Makaton as a way to support his communication. Rui, at the time was a very frustrated toddler who frequently had meltdowns. He couldn’t express his needs, his wants, he must not have felt understood, and this broke my heart. I wanted him to be able to join in, make friends, feel included and to be heard, so we felt we had to at least try Makaton.

Being told to use Makaton can be quite an overwhelming thing to hear when you think about it being a like another language. It’s a daunting task that you may put off starting or feel silly having a go, and if your little one is not interested in watching your hands it can also feel like a waste of time. That’s how we initially felt. To get started, we took some of the pressure off by just focusing on five key signs and tried to be as consistent with them as possible. These were ‘more’, ‘milk’, ‘food’, ‘finished’ and ‘help’. It wasn’t until Rui was three (so one year later), 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 ‘food’.  We were making progress.

With Rui showing some interest in Makaton, Rui’s father and I, along with Nanny and Grandad, as well as Rui’s nursery key workers at the time, signed up to complete a Level 1 and Level 2 Makaton course and we haven’t looked back. 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.

Rui is now such a happy, playful and cheeky boy. He can 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.

Because Makaton has brought so much joy into our family life, in January 2023, I started an Instagram account called ‘@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 be so wonderful.

My top tips, which helped us start our Makaton Journey:

1-     Don’t put pressure on yourselves or your person to learn everything all at once

2-     Pick 5 key signs to start with (you can add more as you gain confidence)

3-     Be consistent; always sign the word, every time you say it

4-     Praise your person for any attempt to sign back, even if it’s not correct.

5-     Always role model the correct sign

6-     Keep practicing

To find your local Makaton tutor (courses available in person and online) please visit www.Makaton.org

The SEN Expert offers a range of services for young people, families and schools. We offer support for parents to help navigate the complex world of Special Educational Needs. We will work with you closely to ensure the best for your child.

The SEN Expert was set up by Claire in 2021 following a successful career spanning 12 years in school improvement, special educational needs, safeguarding and the arts.

Claire has worked as a Deputy Headteacher, Assistant Headteacher, Consultant and SENCO in both state and private schools in inner city London, the Southwest, the Midlands and the USA.

Throughout her career, Claire has ensured solid outcomes for the young people she has worked with. Be that a set of good exam grades, a placement in specialist setting or getting a part time job.

Claire is a working mother, and understands the challenges parents face trying to ensure their children are happy and successful. We aim to provide young people with a creative route to the personal and professional adult life they deserve.

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We offer support for families, children, and schools to navigate the complex world of SEN.

Check out our full list of services at our website www.thesenexpert.co.uk or follow us on Instagram @senexpert for daily advice on special educational needs.

The SEN Expert is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 13523478.