My name is Jo Bryenton
I am a freelance Makaton Tutor and I have an amazing daughter who has Down Syndrome.
I am licensed by The Makaton Charity as a freelance Makaton Tutor - I can deliver Makaton training to anyone, anywhere in the UK.
My Makaton journey
My journey to motherhood was long and complex and there was a time when it didn't look as though my husband and I would be able to have a child of our own. After many years and in my late thirties, I eventually became pregnant and enjoyed a 'textbook' pregnancy. I had regular antenatal checks but chose not to have antenatal screening as we didn't want to risk this long awaited pregnancy. Although our baby was 'small' there were no other antenatal indications of health issues.
I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl at the beginning of December 2009. I had only just gone on Maternity Leave and she was 3 weeks early! We named her Darcey - my husband's favourite girl's name. Darcey was indeed small (she weighed only 4lb 14oz), and a number of health issues were identified at her newborn examination - some of which required her to have immediate surgery. Darcey was also diagnosed as having Down Syndrome.
I had only a vague understanding of what Down Syndrome (DS) was, and couldn't ever recall having met anyone with DS at the time. Like most parents receiving a post natal diagnosis of DS, we were shocked and frightened but determined to do what was best for our daughter.
Having been born at Harrogate Hospital, Darcey was transferred to Leeds General Infirmary for emergency surgery the same day. She spent two weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, before being transferred to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at our local hospital in York. We finally brought her home a few days before Christmas 2009.
It was while we were in the SCBU that we first heard about 'Makaton', 'Mr Tumble, 'Something Special' and 'Singing Hands'. The staff, who were amazing, gave us lots of information about DS, support groups, local services for children with special educational needs etc etc. At the time 'Makaton' didn't mean much to us but over the coming months, every health and education professional we met (and we met lots!) mentioned how useful Makaton might be for us and Darcey.
And so our Makaton journey began.
We were offered the opportunity to attend a subsidised Makaton course with a Makaton Tutor employed by City of York Council when Darcey was just six months old. As we couldn't attend together, we agreed I would go and then teach my husband. I learnt all the Core Vocabulary over two very long and tiring weekends, and we then spent as much time as possible, when you have a poorly newborn, practising together.
Just as the Makaton Tutor had suggested, we agreed a small number of concepts which were relevant to our family which we signed every time we said the words e.g. Mummy, Daddy, food, drink, toilet etc. We said and signed this personalised vocabulary consistently for the next six months.
At eighteen months Darcey signed back for the first time - her first sign was 'no', swiftly followed by 'more'.
By the time she went to pre school at three, Makaton signs were her primary means of communication. She had started to develop speech but it wasn't always clear enough to be able to understand what she wanted. We chose not to use Makaton symbols with Darcey as education professionals advise introducing whole words as soon as possible to help children with DS learn to read.
At five Darcey went to primary school and by then her speech had developed sufficiently to replace Makaton signs as her primary means of communication. We continued to use Makaton signs, both at home and at school, to support the development of her speech and language for the next few years.
These days she's a chatty teenager and attends a mainstream secondary school.
My Makaton Adventures
I had long wanted to teach people Makaton but work and family commitments meant it wasn't possible. Then in Spring 2019 I finally decided to take the plunge and applied for Makaton Tutor training.
As I had originally done Makaton training in 2010 (almost a decade ago), I chose to redo courses covering all the Core Vocabulary.
I also did lots of revision of signs and symbols, and I talked to other Makaton Tutors as I prepared to do Makaton Tutor Training in Autumn 2019.
I spent a fantastic 4 days on a residential course with 15 other trainee Tutors. It was very hard work but I absolutely loved it and I qualified in Nov 2019.
Several people who have done all their Makaton training with me have gone on to train as Makaton Tutors and it has been my pleasure to support them on their own Makaton journey.
If you complete all 4 Levels with me and are interested in becoming a Makaton Tutor, do get in touch with me for a chat.
Information on how to become a Makaton Tutor is on The Makaton Charity website.
Makaton and singing
Sing & Sign Maestros York is a singing and signing choir for young people with and without additional needs who live in and around York. Our choir sessions are a fun and inclusive space to express yourself through music and Makaton signs.
Sing & Sign Maestros started in Spring 2021 by me and Rachel Whittaker, a local music teacher and choir leader. Following the sad death of our beloved Rachel in Spring 2023, the choir is now co-led by me and her husband Ben Whittaker. Ben also leads Stamford Bridge Community Choir and the two choirs regularly collaborate and perform together.
Our choir is open to all abilities and we welcome all young people with and without additional needs. We believe that everyone has the right to participate in music and we strive to make our choir accessible to all. No previous experience of Makaton is required as we teach all the signs you need as we go along. You don't even need to be able to sing. You can just hum or tap - everyone is welcome!
If you know of anyone who is interested in joining the Sing & Sign Maestros, please don't hesitate to connect with us on Facebook. We can't wait to make music and have fun!
In 2012 I helped establish York Down Syndrome Support Group - a local support group for families with a member who has Down Syndrome.
I have had the pleasure of working with many families using Makaton to support the communication of their child or adult. I support the Group's speech and language therapy sessions for EY and Primary children, and work with the private Speech and Language Therapist to use Makaton in the sessions. I have also delivered the Group's 'baby' sessions where I introduce families to using Makaton.
I have seen first-hand the difference using Makaton can make to a person’s life and I am passionate about sharing those skills with others.
Makaton and Research
I am delighted to be working with the Embodied Baby Lab, part of the Centre for Human Developmental Science at Cardiff University and The Makaton Charity on a research project to look at Makaton learning as part of speech and language development in children with Down Syndrome.
The research team are interested in how attentional and motor skills in young children affect learning in everyday settings, such as play between parent and child, and what part Makaton plays in their learning. Their research could greatly inform future interventions for children with Down Syndrome and help advise Makaton Tutors, parents and teachers on how to best support children’s learning.
Would you like to take part in the research? If you have a child with Down syndrome who will be 3-5 years old within the next couple of years, the team would love to hear from you.