Father and daughter using the Makaton sign for dog by Carla Alves

Say what?

A simplified sign language, Makaton, can help those with communication difficulties.

Children with intellectual disability can have difficulty with their speech. While people close to them can learn to understand them, this is a barrier to the children's communication with others whom they see less often, including health professionals. Nursing students Sara Phillips, Saskia Vink, Sarah Waldron, Taylah Wallis, Sophie Webb-Heward, Monique Tomlins, Rebecca Wilson, Grace Wratt and Heidi Wright undertook a research project on this issue, liaising with the Speech Language Therapist at Sara Cohen School, Emma Christos.

Sign language is very complex, and may be too difficult for these children to master, but the students' research identified that Makaton can help bridge the gap. Makaton is a simplified and universal system of signs that provides a visual aid to communication. The students then developed a range of useful resources to raise awareness about Makaton:

  • A card depicting the thumbs up sign for yes and thumbs down for no, which they distributed to their cohort of nursing students to use when working on placement;
  • Two Makaton awareness posters showing commonly used signs;
  • A core board, another visual aid to communication, so children can point to the image for what they want to say;
  • A radio ad with The Hits Dunedin; and
  • A short video to show on digital screens at Otago Polytechnic, demonstrating a few of the signs.