Q & A with Makaton with Lucinda

A few weeks ago, the lovely Nikki, who runs the social media account Makaton with Lucinda had a chat with us about how important Makaton has been in helping her family communicate and gave us some tips for anyone wanting to start learning Makaton. Thanks Nikki for chatting to us, check out @MakatonwithLucinda on social media.

Could you tell us a bit about Lucinda?

Lucinda is 6 years old – she is a little sister to her 2 older brothers Zack and Evan. You will see them feature in some of our Makaton video clips (when they are in the mood!) Lucinda loves doing the things that most 6 year olds do – loves play areas, going to the park, feeding the ducks, books etc. She loves school too so far! She is in mainstream school supported by two fabulous 1:1 staff. Lucinda loves The Wiggles and makes me dance along with her to their songs all the time – I must know each song off by heart now! 

When did you first start signing with Lucinda and how long did it take her to sign back/recognise signs?

I can’t remember exactly – probably from around age 8 months old. I knew some Makaton already from a previous job so started off with some basic signs I remembered from there. I remember feeling a little self conscious signing to start with – not at home, but when out and about – worried I was making mistakes! Later on we were lucky that a place became available with our local Portage service. Lucinda’s Portage worker visited us at home weekly and used to literally burst through our front door singing and signing! Lucinda was instantly captivated and  loved her, she captured Lucinda’s attention straight away. This made me think ‘ right! I need to up my game!’ and gradually over the weeks my confidence with signing began to grow. However, I still can’t sing a note – you may have noticed that on the occasions we do a signed song on our page! Lucinda’s understanding of signs & spoken words were growing all the time, but it took quite a while before she would sign or speak back… I kept going though and then one day she just did! She was sat in her little chair in the kitchen whilst I was making dinner and I had given her a slice of cheese to keep her going… she gobbled it up and then out the blue she looked up at me with her big blue eyes and signed ‘more’. Since that point she has literally added sign after sign into her vocabulary and her speech is emerging every day. She is a visual learner – so even though she didn’t sign back for a long time the amazing little thing was silently soaking it all up like a sponge.

How do you feel it has helped her communication?

Makaton has helped her communication sooooooooo much! We are so so grateful for this language programme. Her speech has always been unclear and disordered… but with her signing whilst speaking it has helped me to understand her, and for her to get her needs known. When she started to be more understood this gave her the drive to really want to be able to communicate even more – and has encouraged her to talk more and more. Makaton has relieved some of her frustrations around not being understood, and I think has helped her memory and focus. Its helped her make choices, helped her to understand her day with the use of symbols on timetables etc, and really helped with her understanding transitions – with use of Now & Next boards etc.  Makaton has also helped my communication too – it reminds me to slow down what I am saying, cut out some chit chat, give her time to process, focus on key words and give clearer messages to her. 

Do the rest of your family use Makaton? Do you feel it has benefited them?

Yes we all try to! Her brothers try hard to use the signs they know with her and she loves that. We try to get them involved in our page too when they’re up for it as its nice for families to see other real families using it. I do feel it has benefited them – they are now able to communicate even better with their little sister. They sometimes play a Makaton board game together and that is lovely family bonding time. They are now able to go into school and show their friends some signs which makes them feel proud, and Zack now helps out at our school’s new Makaton After School Club. The boys love that we have a You Tube channel – although Zack did say said it would be so much cooler if it was one of those channels where kids prank their mum every day!

What resources did you find useful when you started learning?

Singing Hands, Mr Tumble & Dave Benson Phillips! DVDs from these amazing people I cannot recommend enough!! Our DVDs have all been played to death & are scratched to bits – but are all still all firm favourites in our house. All of us have learnt so much from them. Its a great way to start out on your Makaton journey – you can sit together, enjoy and learn together – in your own house, in your own time. Lots of Singing Hands & Mr Tumble on YouTube too – so it doesn’t have to be expensive to start. As time goes on it’s fabulous as a parent / carer to do formal Makaton training courses – on these courses you learn so much, and you get a fab manual to take away. You don’t need all the signs you learn straight away – so the manual is great for referring back to as your child progresses and you need reminders of more signs. I also find the core vocabulary USB stick from The Makaton Charity really handy. Its nice to see the little video clips of how signs are signed accurately by tutors. The Makaton Charity has great free downloads on their website which are great resources, and we are fans of their lovely ‘Days Out’ book set you can buy too – lovely books to share with your child – and really helpful for when you are starting out as each page shows you how to sign the story. We love these books – and Lucinda can now sign some of the books in this set completely independently!

Any tips for new parents wanting to start signing?

Start as young as possible! But if you haven’t it doesn’t matter as it’s never too late. I would say to start with a handful of signs that are going to be useful… for us it was things like ‘eat, drink, more, finished, play…’ Keep going – don’t get disheartened if you get nothing back. Watch Singing Hands, Mr Tumble & Dave Benson Phillips together. Make sure you subscribe / follow their social media channels. Follow The Makaton Charity pages – join in with learning their ‘sign of the week’ each week. Check out when there are Makaton courses running in your area. Try introducing Makaton symbols too – they sometimes get forgotten about. Some children prefer them, or benefit from them being used along with signs. Have fun with it – sign along to songs together! And follow our Makaton with Lucinda page! I’m not a tutor – but I would love to be one day.

How did Makaton with Lucinda come about?

Lucinda and I were part of the Wouldn’t Change A Thing ’50 Mums’ awareness video which came about after seeing Suzanne from Singing Hands beautifully signing the song ‘1000 years’ with her Daughter. Inspired by what we saw we became one of the 50 families who had a line in the song. The video was a huge success, way more than any of us could have ever have hoped for – and all of a sudden people all over the world talking more about Down Syndrome & were becoming interested and more aware of Makaton. It was at this point when I thought it would be amazing to carry on the momentum that had been built – show people how amazing Lucinda is, how amazing Makaton is and continue to raise awareness. However much I liked the idea I sat on it for a fair while! Confidence really! Procrastinating over it for ages – it’s what I do best! Anyway, months later I was chatting to some other ‘Wouldn’t Change A Thing’ mums who gave me the confidence to actually do it! I wanted to show people how amazing Makaton is, and what a difference it can make – whilst hopefully changing a few peoples perceptions about people with down syndrome along the way. Hopefully people can see by following our communication journey the benefits of using Makaton – we show a real family using it – and If we can, they can! Its chaos in places, funny at times and very home made – but I like to keep it real like that! 

Have you got any highlights from running the page?

I think for me its the amazing comments we have had – some have made me well up and have been mind blowing. Hearing parents saying that since following they have now started to try some signs with their child, hearing families say they all watch the sign of the day whilst eating their breakfast and all have a go together. I’ve had quite a few say now that they’ve become so interested since following that they’ve now signed up to Makaton courses, some are showing the page to their work places / schools – gradually places are becoming more inclusive. Some people have said that seeing Lucinda’s clips are the highlight of their day and that they now start their day with a smile. Wow! Can’t ask for more than that!

I think on a more personal level – the absolute highlight for me is having her little communication journey recorded in little quick video clips that I can keep forever. I’ve loved seeing how she has grown in the last year since starting – how her signing has come on, how her speech is developing, how her confidence has grown, and how her magical personality just shines through more and more with each clip.    

Can I ask you what ‘Wouldn’t Change A Thing’ means to you?

For me no words have ever come close to summing up how I feel like these 4 words do. I literally wouldn’t change a thing about Lucinda! To be part of a family of parents who all feel the same, regardless of any challenges that may be, and who all want to change the world for our children is just amazing. So proud to be a part of the team, and proud of everyone in it.

Thanks to Nikki for chatting to us, if you’d like to check out Makaton with Lucinda you’ll find them on on Facebook, Twitter (@makatonlucinda), Instagram and YouTube at Makaton with Lucinda