I work as a teaching assistant at ARK Rose Primary Academy in Kings Norton, Birmingham. When I applied for the post I was told that in my interview my passion for communication and Makaton shone through. I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to provide a communication tool to the children within this setting. I have been a Makaton local tutor since 2010.
I started in Reception and worked with two children with autism, one of whom had no communication at all, despite having been at the school for 18 months. As there was no Speech and Language Therapist involved I was unsure which communication tool would be best suited for her, so I used Makaton and pictures. I labelled everything she did, signed, used speech and showed the pictures.
I was unsure whether this was having an impact until one day, after about two months working with her, she went over to our communication board and pointed to the ‘good sitting’ picture, and signed and spoke the words. It took a lot of swallowing to stop the tears from flowing as I felt I had finally given this child her voice.
Over the next few months, she developed her vocabulary, choosing the pictures, speaking and signing. I then introduced Makaton with the visual timetable I had provided for her, which in turn had a huge impact on her behaviour, as she was able to understand what was happening now and next. I then taught her peers Makaton: they were proud to be able to take part and to be able to communicate with her.
Members of the team at the school were asking “What did you do? It has been so beautiful to see this transformation of this child." And "She is a different child now she has been given a tool to communicate.”
She became more confident, though that did mean she was able to say no to things she didn’t want to do! She also has a sense of belonging as she is able to conform to the routine of the day and do what the other children in her year are doing, as her comprehension has improved immensely. She is very independent with her self-help skills, but she will now call out my name to ask for things like cutting her food and zipping her coat. Her mother and grandmother have said how delighted they are with her progress.
She has learnt all of her set 1 sounds in Phonics, and is just beginning to blend her sounds to spell words. She is delighted when she gets it right: the smile on her face lights up the room. Although there is still a long way to go, every day is a learning day for her... and for me.
There was also a child who came to our school from Egypt, who couldn’t speak any English. I used Makaton with him and he signed until he was able to say the words. When the head teacher saw the impact that Makaton had, she asked if I could teach Makaton to 12 EAL (English as an additional language) children in the school. I taught them the signs for the visual timetable that had been implemented in their classes, then I taught them the Rainbow song, and they sang it in assembly: a very proud moment for me. I also covered feelings, which allowed them to express any emotions they may have. One of the children told me (the best way she could) that she felt sad and alone as she had no friends.
I was then asked to introduce Makaton to the whole school in anti-bullying week, where I explained to the other children how daunting it was for the EAL children to come into a school where they couldn’t speak the same language as us, and were unable to communicate with their peers. I asked how they would feel. I focused on the topic and introduced the following signs: hello, how are you, my name is, can I help you, can you help me, and friends. I was overjoyed at the number of children that wanted to help the EAL children. And the child who'd been 'sad and alone' said to me the following week, using Makaton, ‘Mrs Hayes, I excited, I have two friends!’
I spoke with the EAL children and asked how Makaton has had an impact on them. Here are some of their comments:
I am always being praised and thanked for introducing Makaton to the school but it is me that is grateful, for being given the opportunity to be able to use it in a setting. Within my other roles I have had since I became a tutor I didn’t feel that management were giving it a chance.
I have since delivered the Makaton Taster session to other teaching assistants at ARK schools in Birmingham and London at the last two hub days, and received some very positive feedback. From that they are eager to enrol in further Makaton training in their area. I am so passionate about communication and have seen such amazing breakthroughs with the children, young people and their families that I have taught, and that whatever role I have had, I just always wanted to make a difference and I believe teaching Makaton helps me do that.