Makaton is a language programme designed to provide a means of communication to individuals who cannot communicate efficiently by speaking. The Makaton language programme has been used with individuals who have cognitive impairments, autism, Down syndrome, specific language impairment, multisensory impairment and acquired neurological disorders that have negatively affected the ability to communicate, including stroke patients.
The name "Makaton" is derived from the first letters of the names of three speech and language therapists who helped devise the programme in the 1970s: the researcher Margaret Walker, and Katharine Johnston and Tony Cornforth, colleagues from the Royal Association for Deaf people.
Makaton is a registered trade mark of The Makaton Charity, which was established in 2007. The original trademark application for Makaton was filed in the UK on 28 August 1979, with registration approved as from that date under UK trade mark registration no. 1119745.
In 2004 the Oxford University Press included Makaton as a common usage word in the Oxford English Dictionary. The entry states "Makaton, n. Brit. A proprietary name for: a language programme integrating speech, manual signs, and graphic symbols, developed to help people for whom communication is very difficult, esp. those with learning disabilities."
The Makaton Language Programme uses a multimodal approach to teach language and literacy skills, through a combination of speech, signs, and graphic symbols used concurrently, or, only with speech with signs, or, only with speech with graphic symbols as appropriate for the student's needs. It consists of a Core Vocabulary of roughly 450 concepts that are taught in a specific order (there are 8 different stages). For example, stage 1 involves teaching vocabulary for immediate needs, like 'eat' and 'drink'. Later stages contain more complex and abstract vocabulary such as time and emotions. Once basic communication has been established, the student can progress in their language use, using whatever modes are most appropriate. Also, although the programme is organised in stages, it can be modified and tailored to the individual's needs. In addition to the Core Vocabulary, there is a Makaton Resource Vocabulary of over 7,000 concepts which are illustrated with signs and graphic symbols.
Original research was conducted by Margaret Walker in 1972/73, and resulted in the design of the Makaton Core Vocabulary based on functional need. This research was conducted with institutionalised deaf cognitively impaired adults resident at Botleys Park Hospital in Chertsey, Surrey (closed in 2008). The aim was to enable them to communicate using signs from Sign Language. Fourteen deaf and cognitively impaired adults participated in the pilot study, and all were able to learn to use manual signs; improved behaviour was also noted. Shortly after, the Core Vocabulary was revised to include both children and adults with severe communication difficulties (including individuals who could hear), and was used in many schools throughout the UK in order to stimulate communication and language. In the early stages of development, Makaton used only speech and manual signs (without symbols). By 1985, work had begun to include graphic symbols in the Makaton Language Programme and a version including graphic symbols was published in 1986. The Core Vocabulary was revised in 1986 to include additional cultural concepts. The Makaton Vocabulary Development Project (MVDP) was founded in 1976 by Margaret Walker, who worked in a voluntary capacity as director until her retirement in October 2008. The first Makaton training workshop was held in 1976 and supporting resources and further training courses were, and continue, to be developed. In 1983 the MVDP became a charitable trust and in 2007 changed its status to become the Makaton Charity.
The Makaton Core Vocabulary is adapted for use in different countries; signs from each country's deaf community are used, along with culturally relevant Makaton symbols. For example, in the United Kingdom, Makaton uses signs from British Sign Language (BSL); the signs are mainly from the London and South East England regional dialect. Makaton is used extensively throughout the UK, but has also been adapted for use in over 40 countries, including Poland, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Kuwait and Japan. Within the UK, a variant "Say It and Sign It" from the West Sussex sign support system has been adopted by multiple nurseries and private courses. On 16 November 2018, comedian Rob Delaney read a book on the BBC's children's channel CBeebies entirely in Makaton and English; he had used Makaton to communicate with his late son Henry, who was rendered unable to talk after a tracheotomy.
Training and resources
The Makaton Charity:
- Delivers training to over 30,000 parents, carers and professionals
- Develops and produces a wide range of resources (books, DVDs and computer based resources)
- Provides a free family advisory service for information, advice and support for parents, family members and professionals working with children.
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