fbpx Our Makaton Signing Journey: From Baby to Teenager: Part 1 | Special iApps Skip to main content

Our Makaton Signing Journey: From Baby to Teenager: Part 1

Our family Makaton journey probably first started over 20 years ago when I explored signing for babies after my elder son was born. We then delved further as our younger son William arrived 5 years later. William has Down syndrome, autism plus several medical conditions. He is deaf and has had hearing loss since a baby.

I am Beverley Dean MBE, Founder of Special iApps C.I.C. and this is my journey using Makaton from baby signing to a talking teenager. I wanted to tell this story to help and empower first time parents or guardians! This is part 1 of 2.

Our Family Makaton Journey

Like many parents we learned Makaton to use at home. I recall we started to sign quite early on with William, then stopped as I couldn’t see William signing back and got quite disheartened. Other kids we knew around his age were picking up signs faster and doing better than him but they did not have his complex health issues going on.

We watched Mr Tumble and Singing Hands together then I restarted doing more with him having attended Makaton training and feeling empowered and encouraged by parents of older children who recommended that I just keep going. William started to sign, but at a slower pace and in his own way. Makaton and signing remain a big part of his life today as his speech development has been slow.

We rely on a mixture of speech, signs and written words. Our use of Makaton has switched focus as he’s grown older to be more age related, be around encouraging communication, choices as well as preparing for adulthood.

Signing With Our Baby Over 20 Years Ago

Our eldest son, Joseph, was born in 1999. It was when he was around 6 months old that I first encountered and learnt about baby signing. I vividly recall being in my kitchen, standing at the counter as I prepared his lunch watching him as he sat in his highchair and talking to him throughout. But something was different.

This was the first time I saw him frustrated. As I made lunch, I talked away to him (as usual) but he was getting quite agitated, becoming more and more frustrated which was so unusual for him. Normally he would be happily playing and watching me whilst I prepared our lunch.



A number of things were going through my head, “Was he starving and just couldn’t wait?”, “Was he thirsty?”, “Did he want something different to eat?”, “Did he want a toy?”, “Did he need a nappy change?”, “Was he too hot or too cold?”, “Did he have a pain?”, “Was he ill?”…

I talked. He got more frustrated. I then started picking things up to show him so I could see his reaction. “Are you thirsty?” as I held his bottle. “Are you hungry?” as I held a banana, then showing him his teddy and toy car it was obvious didn't want either neither...

I repeatedly asked, “What do you want?”, and he repeatedly pointed elsewhere making frustrated babbling noises. It was obvious that he wanted something, but I simply did not know what and could not work it out. I couldn’t see quite what he was pointing at and did not understand his babbling. It was frustrating for us both. In the end I gave up, took him out of his highchair, put him in his pushchair and we went for a long walk.

I just didn't understand what he was trying to communicate, it saddened me as I had snapped and said, “Just talk to me!” which was unrealistic expecting him to be able to talk at his age. I mulled it all over in my mind as I pushed his buggy. I had previously read an article on baby signing and decided to explore further when I got home.

Baby Signing For Communication

Research I did and yes it confirmed signing was a fantastic way to communicate early with babies before they developed speech. Joseph didn’t have a learning difficulty; in fact he was the opposite (as we later found out that he was gifted and talented). At the time we did not know this, I was a new mum and simply wanted to try signing with him so that we could communicate.

It made sense, so I bought a book, learnt a few basic signs, “eat”, “banana”, “milk”, “drink” and eagerly started. As the months past we incorporated signing into our routine and had fun together. Joseph started to talk, our need to use sign language dwindled so quickly phased out of our lives as his speech was rapidly developing. I gave the signing book to a friend who was intrigued by learning more about baby signing as at the time it was a relatively new concept. Remember this was over 20 years ago.

I didn't think about baby signing until five years later. We knew William our younger son had Down syndrome before he was born. Knowing this allowed us to do a bit of background reading before he arrived. A friend pushed a flyer through my door about a conference organised by our local Down syndrome parent support group.

We registered for the event when I was pregnant and attended it when William was just 3 months old. Signing was on the agenda, and it brought back a few memories, so I was quite keen to start again from scratch with both my boys. This time with an older sibling to try things out on was a bonus!

The message was clear. Research showed that children with Down syndrome benefit from a signing environment and that using sign does not delay speech development. Engaging in any form of communication and language will help with brain development. Both professionals and parents we met endorsed this from their experience with their own children.

We learned that speech development varies from child to child and as spoken words develop, children start to replace signing with spoken words and transitions from sign to speech. “Couldn't be easier“, I thought at the time, but second time round would turn out to be a very different experience for me as I wasn’t using it to support communication with an able gifted and talented child but with one who had a learning difficulty and complex needs.

Read Part 2 on our blog coming soon.



Special iApps Supports Makaton

Makaton is a unique language programme which uses signs, speech and symbols together to support communication and spoken language. As language develops, new signs and symbols are added. Makaton's use has evolved over the years to support people of all ages in a variety of ways to improve their communication, education and everyday life. Over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton daily as it can be tailored to the individual’s needs by using a mix of speech, signs and symbols.

See how you can use your Special iApps membership with Makaton or Even sign up to a 14-Day Free Trial for Special iApps below.

Learn More About Makaton