Makaton: an insight into how we communicate

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Makaton: an insight into how we communicate

Brighter Sound trainee practitioner and virtuoso violinist Jote Osahn, blogs about Makaton, a unique language programme, and how it can be used as a powerful tool for communication.

A whole new world has just opened up… a world where my gestures have new meaning… a way to end isolation, frustration and a myriad of other negative and soul destroying feelings that can occur when you cannot be understood.

Welcome to the world of MAKATON a unique language programme that uses signing, speech and symbols to teach language and communication skills. It was designed by Margaret Walker, a speech-language pathologist in 1972 and takes its name from the first two letters of the people that first used it, namely Margaret herself, Kate and Tony, two teenagers whose lives were changed forever from that moment.

Can you imagine a world where you cannot communicate with anyone? Where everything you do to try to explain how you feel, or what you need or mean is misunderstood?

Many of us may have been to a country where we don’t speak the language, which can give us a glimpse into this world. It’s incredibly hard as I found out on the Makaton Foundation Workshops recently held at the MIF Offices in Manchester.

On the first day, our wonderful Trainer, Tracy Clark, split us into pairs facing each other. One of us could see a screen with a simple line drawn picture of a house with a door and four windows and a path leading to some trees and a person walking along the path. We had to describe what was on the screen to the other person, who had to draw what they thought we were describing. The only proviso was that we couldn’t speak or use anything apart from your body to communicate. How difficult was that?!

The room came alive with laughter, shaking of heads, bodies and arms and legs moving, and bursts of excitement as gestures were understood. But as we discussed after the exercise, we also realised the frustration of being mis-interpreted and the huge difficulty in expressing simple concepts let alone the complex interaction that takes place between people without spoken language.  I had an idea of this difficulty in my experience with my nephew, who has severe cerebral palsy and cannot speak, but never from the point of view of being the one who could not communicate.

70% of communication is non-verbal. Makaton harnesses this fact into a system which uses signing, symbols, photographs, technology and speech

The insight this course has given me into the world of those with communication difficulties is invaluable. I now have a glimpse into their world, which can be filled with isolation, frustration and anger, leading to a lack of confidence and withdrawal from contact with others, leading to a loss of hope, depression and sometimes aggression. The list of negative outcomes is overwhelming.

BUT – there is hope in Makaton, and in other non-verbal and verbal systems of communication. A well known fact is that 70% of communication is non-verbal. Makaton harnesses this fact into a system which uses signing, symbols, photographs, technology and speech to facilitate understanding, build relationships, and develop and teach language skills to those who, for whatever reason, have difficulty communicating. By the end of the training, we were all having fun conversing using basic Makaton, showing the simplicity and ease with which even a handful (no pun intended!) of signs can positively open up the world and change your experience of life.

I’m looking forward to helping Brighter Sound create ways in which we can use Makaton and the power of music to enhance even more people’s lives.  Makaton can also be used for baby signing and to get things rolling. We’re working on using signing and symbols at Brighter Sound’s Shake Rattle & Roll sessions for 0-4 year olds at Band on the Wall, with the aim of creating a accessible space for all children to enjoy making music together.

We are social animals and need contact with other humans to survive. Some form of ‘language’ is essential for this. I don’t see Makaton as a system exclusively for those with communication difficulties – I see it as another language that I can use to build relationships with people with whom I would otherwise have had great difficulty in doing so. And that makes me very happy! I urge anyone who has read this and feels even a tiny bit of curiosity to visit the Makton website https://www.makaton.org. WARNING: It could enrich your life!