Last Updated on December 1, 2022 by Steph Reed

Makaton sign

Steph ASD Teacher Makaton apple sign

Signing is not just used for and by children who have hearing difficulties or who are deaf. Signing is used in many schools teaching autistic children as a way of reinforcing speech along with symbol use. Sign can help children learn key language. For some non verbal children, single signs can be taught as a primary form of communication by repeatedly modeling the sign in the correct context in order for the children to learn to use the sign spontaneously to request an item or need.

As a teacher, I use sign in the classroom by:

  • Signing key words whenever I say them. Pairing spoken language with sign and symbol can help a child learn the key language.
  • Teaching children signs in the correct context in order for the child to learn the sign. For example when teaching the sign for ‘more’ (often the first sign taught) when in the correct context for a child wanting more, maybe the child is reaching for a biscuit or putting up their hands in order you to continue jumping with them; I would say “more” at the same time as modelling the sign for ‘more’ in order for the child to imitate. If the child will not imitate the sign then I would start by physically modelling the sign by taking the child’s hands and moving them into the ‘more’ sign at the same time as saying the word “more”. This paired action is repeated over different motivating contexts in order for the child to learn how to spontaneously sign ‘more’.
  • BSL and Makaton

    British Sign Language is taught to and used by children who are deaf or who have hearing difficulties. BSL is an official language of the deaf community where every word has a sign. BSL has it’s own grammar as well as word order and there are different regional dialects. For children with ASD, not every word is signed, it is only the key words as well as spoken language. This is often referred to as Makaton. Makaton is a language programme using speech as well as key signs and symbols to reinforce key words. Makaton uses signs from the sign language of the particular country it’s being used in so therefore most of the signs used in Makaton in Great Britain are taken from British Sign Language. Find out more about Makaton here.

    Last year I had a non verbal child in the class who went from imitating single signs to putting 2 and 3 signs together spontaneously! Both I and his family were very pleased with his progress but I was very aware that once this child went home, he was unable to use his knowledge of signs and communicate this way with his family as his family did not know the signs. I therefore created short video clips of the signs he was using so the family could learn the signs at home.

    Find a Motivator:

    Food can often be a great motivator for children and is therefore a good starting point for teaching children some signs. The following videos feature signs that are commonly used in schools across Great Britain although some signs may differ depending on the school or child. In order to have consistency with school and home, I recommend checking with your child’s teacher whether in class they are using Makaton or different signs.


    Please let me know if you would like to learn any other signs or post a comment below.

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    Victoria · September 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    This is so handy, thankyou!

    Hilda Wheeler · September 25, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Very informative. Have you made a full video of all sign language. It would be helpful if I could learn more to communicate with my grandson who’s non verbal.

    sreed · February 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    I haven’t made any more signing videos but it is something I could do in the future.

    There are lots of great Makaton signing resources on the internet if you need more sign videos now.

    Jessica Ross · October 12, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    Do you have any links that could help? My toddler is showing signs of severe autism and is non verbal. Right now our only communication is hand slapping and lip smacking but I would love to support her with makaton.

    Steph Reed · October 12, 2020 at 8:28 pm

    Hi Jessica! Youtube videos can really help especially ‘Something Special’ and ‘Singing hands’. If you are in the UK, check with your Local Authority Local Offer website whether they have my Makaton courses coming up!

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