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Makaton is a system of communication that uses manual signs, graphic symbols and speech. It is used by and with people who have communication, language or learning difficulties. This includes people with articulation problems (for example, people with cerebral palsy), people with cognitive impairments which might be associated with conditions such as Autism or Down syndrome, and their families, colleagues and carers. It can be used to help the development of speech and language in children, or by adults as a means of functional communication for every day use. It has also proved useful for toddlers who can learn to use signs before they have mastered speech.

The sooner a child is taught Makaton, the more likely they are to gain fluency[citation needed]. This may explain why children with Down syndrome get the most out of Makaton, as they can be diagnosed very early.

Communication using Makaton involves speaking while concurrently signing key words. The sign vocabulary is taken from the local deaf sign language, beginning with a 'core' list of important words. However, the grammar generally follows the spoken language rather than the sign language. Makaton uses signing with techniques such as movement, placement and facial expressions.

The signs used with the Makaton Language Programme in the UK are from British Sign Language (BSL). Makaton is used in over 40 countries worldwide. In Germany, for example, the signs used with Makaton are all from German Sign Language (DGS). Natural sign languages have their own unique language rules, own grammar and word order, just like English differs from French, for example. Wherever Makaton is used, it is important to use culturally appropriate signs and symbols. For example, the UK symbol for 'bread' is sliced bread, however in France it is more appropriate to use the symbol of a baguette instead. Please see official site (see below) for adapting the Makaton Language Programme for use in countries outside the UK.

Makaton was developed in the early 1970s in the UK for communication with residents of St George's Hospital who were both deaf and intellectually disabled. The name is a blend of the names of the three people who devised it: Margaret Walker, Kathy Johnston and Tony Cornforth.

The Makaton Charity provide training for parents, carers and professionals, resource materials including books, CDs, databases, DVDs etc, translation service, sign and symbol advice and a Family Advisory Service among others.

Makaton and Autism Edit

Signing of children with autism is similar to their use of spoken language: it is stereotyped and used mainly to achieve immediate needs, and is rarely used to share experiences or feelings.[1]

Using Makaton Today Edit

Most Makaton users are children and adults who need it as their main means of communication. But everyone else who shares their lives will also use Makaton. These include the families, carers, friends and professionals such as teachers, speech and language therapists and nurses.

Today, Makaton is used with a wide range of people in different settings, not just in the field of learning disability. The range of communication difficulties has also led other people to benefit from Makaton. For example, people who have had a stroke and lost their speech (so use signs and symbols) or people with memory restrictions (symbols act as a concrete reference or reminder).


  1. Howlin P (1998). Practitioner review: psychological and educational treatments for autism. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 39 (3): 307–22.

External linksEdit

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