Sep 18, 2023

What is Makaton?

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
What is Makaton?

Have you ever tried expressing your feelings or needs without using words? It can be challenging.

Why not give it a shot and communicate your thoughts to the person beside you without speaking?

How did you feel while doing this exercise?

What techniques did you use to help you? Many people find this exercise difficult and frustrating, which can create anxiety.

As you can see, effective communication is a crucial skill that we all need in life. Whether it's asking for something to eat or drink, completing daily tasks, learning at school, solving problems, making friends, or having fun, they all depend on our ability to communicate with one another.

For babies, children and adults with special needs, limited speech and communication barriers, what you experienced is part of their daily experiences.

This is where Makaton comes in to lend a hand, potentially changing their lives for the better!

So, what is Makaton?

Makaton is the UK's leading programme for adults and children with learning or communication difficulties. 

It was created by Margaret Walker in the early 1970s. Since then, it has been used in many countries worldwide to help children and adults with speech or language barriers.

It combines signs, symbols, and speech to give different options for people to communicate. 

Using signs can help people who do not use speech. Likewise, symbols can help people who have limited speech or cannot or prefer not to sign.

Makaton transforms the lives of people with special needs and communication difficulties by allowing them to express themselves independently, helping them improve their quality of life and well-being.

The Benefits of Using Makaton

Communication and Language

Makaton is great for improving accessibility for people with disabilities and communication barriers. It uses signs, symbols, and gestures to help make concepts and ideas clearer and easier to understand. For children with language limitations, Makaton can be especially helpful for understanding things better.

Social and Emotional development

Makaton allows children to express their emotions effectively. For example, a child who is upset but doesn't have the words to communicate their feelings might resort to hitting or crying. By using Makaton signs and symbols to convey their emotions, they can communicate more clearly, reducing frustration and building emotional awareness.

Makaton also fosters social skills by encouraging children to communicate with others. Children can develop stronger bonds, build trust, and enhance their emotional intelligence by signing or using symbols with others. This supports their social and emotional growth and helps them feel more confident and empowered in their communication, helping to reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem, and enhance overall well-being.


Using Makaton can help children and adults to become more self-sufficient in their daily lives. By providing a means of communication that doesn't rely on verbal language, Makaton can help individuals to express themselves more effectively and participate more fully in society.



Makaton as Baby Sign Language

Makaton supports children and adults with special needs or communication and language difficulties. Still, early years practitioners and parents have also successfully used it to support their babies' and toddlers' communication and language development.

What are the benefits to using Makaton with our young children?

Building communication before speech

Babies and toddlers cannot yet communicate their needs and feelings. As a result, it must be highly frustrating as simple tasks can become very difficult, leaving them feeling frustrated and isolated. Using Makaton with your baby or toddler can help them get their needs across effectively and help them interact with the world around them.

Supporting emotional development

Children who use Makaton to communicate their thoughts and feelings often have fewer tantrums or aggressive behaviour. This is because they can use Makaton signs to be understood by others, reducing feelings of frustration.

Building attention and listening skills

Attention and listening skills can be difficult for young children, especially babies. They may find it challenging to pay attention for some time or focus on an individual when talking. 

Signing can support this development, giving our young children a visual focus and using their listening skills. 

Makaton enhances language development

Makaton is not a replacement for speech. It must be used alongside speech for Makaton to work. Although some children may begin to drop the signs once their language has developed, many will continue to use them. 

Children will have a deeper understanding of the words they are learning by using the signs accompanying speech.

What is the difference between Makaton and British Sign Language (BSL)?

Makaton and British Sign Language (BSL) are two distinct forms of communication used to facilitate communication with people with speech, language, or hearing impairments. While both use sign language to communicate, they have some significant differences.

The most significant difference between the two is that Makaton is designed to support the spoken word and can be used in conjunction with spoken language. In contrast, BSL is the language of the deaf community in Britain. Is a complete language in its own right, with its own grammar and vocabulary. Like many languages, BSL is constantly changing and evolving, and it varies depending on where in the country you are from.

However, the order of words used in Makaton is the same word order of spoken speech, and it is the same all across the world.

Makaton Mythbusters!

Makaton is a wonderful tool for enhancing our children's communication and language. However, there are some misconceptions surrounding Makaton that need to be addressed. Here are three common myths about Makaton and why they are not true:

Makaton is only for people with severe communication difficulties.

This is one of the most common misconceptions about Makaton. Many believe this system is only for people who cannot speak at all or have severe communication difficulties. However, this is not true. 

Makaton is a flexible system that can be adapted to suit the needs of many individuals with varying levels of communication difficulties. It can be used by people with neurodiversity, speech disorders, learning disabilities, hearing impairments, and more. 

Makaton is not just for those with severe communication difficulties; it can be used by anyone who needs it.

Makaton is only used with children.

Another common misconception is that Makaton is only used with children. While it is true that Makaton is often used in the early years, this system can also be used with adults of all ages. 

In fact, Makaton is used by many people, from educators to health care professionals to family members of people with communication difficulties. 

Makaton can facilitate communication with people of all ages, regardless of their ability level.


Makaton will make my child non-verbal. 

Some people believe that using Makaton with their babies or toddlers will make them non-verbal; This is not true. 

Makaton is not a replacement for spoken language but an addition to spoken words. This system improves communication and makes it easier for people to express themselves. 

Makaton uses a combination of signs, symbols, and spoken language to convey meaning. This means that people who use Makaton still need to use words to speak while using a sign or symbol to increase their communication and understanding.

It is difficult to learn.

Another common myth about Makaton is that it's a complex program to learn and use. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Makaton is designed to be easy to learn. It can be taught to anyone, regardless of their language or learning abilities. All it takes is patience, practice, and dedication to use Makaton with your little one.

The Makaton Charity

The Makaton Charity ensures that everyone with learning or communication difficulties has the tools and resources to communicate.

  • Their nationwide network of licensed tutors and trainers provides training for parents, carers, and professionals.

  • Develops and produces printed and electronic resources—from nursery rhyme DVDs to vocabulary books and electronic collections of signs and symbols for computer use.

  • Works with others to make their information accessible-e.g., translating materials using Makaton symbols.

  • Provides advice and support to families and professionals—e.g., the charity has a free family advisory service.

  • Works in partnership to influence society and empower people. The charity has worked with organisations such as The National Portrait Gallery and the BBC to promote communication and the use of Makaton so that more children can participate, e.g. CBeebies-Mr. Tumble, "Something Special".  

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