What is Makaton

Makaton is a language programme, which supplements verbal communication with actions and other non-verbal signs. It was first introduced in the 1970’s by a British speech and language therapist named Margaret Walker and her colleagues Katharine and Tony while the term ‘makaton’ was made up using the first few syllables of these three names. Following its introduction, over 50,000 professionals have been trained in makaton in the UK alone while many countries including USA, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Spain, Portugal and Norway have introduced the same to its special education systems as a means of communication between children and adults.

-Makaton and sign language

According to the East London Communication Enterprise, makaton’s complementary nature for verbal language makes it different from the British Sign Language. The basis for the makaton programme is a core vocabulary consisting of specially selected concepts and ideas. The basis for its selection is its benefit to the communications between children and adults in instances of language difficulty. The programme evolves in stages and in the beginning, only the vocabulary required to express the basic ideas would be introduced. In later stages, more advanced vocabulary would be introduced to facilitate complex communications.

-Makaton signs

The signs included in the makaton programme are derived from the British Sign Language which is widely used for communication purposes by the deaf community all over the world. However, in makaton, only the keywords are signed according to the order of spoken words. In addition to communicating with sign language, it is also accompanied by grammatical speech, which strengthens the visual communication rather than any modality used alone.

-Makaton symbols

Makaton symbols on the other hand are available for all stages of the vocabulary, which further strengthens, and assist those who find it difficult to communicate using grammatical speech and sign language alone. Based on research, it has been found that children and adults with autism would prefer symbols than using signs to communicate. At the same time, symbols have shown to be useful to facilitate better pre-reading and reading in children and adults who are experiencing various learning disabilities.

-Core vocabulary

Makaton core vocabulary was grouped into 8 stages and to an additional vocabulary. Initially it consisted of 350 signs, which was later expanded to include almost 450 signs and symbols. Essentially, the language evolved over time depending on the demand and the needs of its users while as described earlier, its gradual introduction progressing from simple to more complex concepts and ideas makes it easily adaptable to resolve the communication issues pertaining to different stages of the child’s development.

-Additional vocabulary

The additional vocabulary pertaining to makaton programme includes signs, words and symbols, which can be used in special situations and experiences. This is known as the resource vocabulary and could be adapted to be used in fringe user training and for environments, for which such vocabularies would be of use.


As it evolved for many decades, it is expected that makaton vocabulary will evolve over time and it is also expected that its user base would grow in the next few decades bringing more and more inputs towards its evolution.