Positive signs

15 October 2019 | Midlands

Suzanne Miell-Ingram and Tracy Upton from Singing Hands

Inspirational mums have helped thousands of kids through Makaton

Supermums Suzanne Miell-Ingram and Tracy Upton both know how frustrating not being able to communicate properly can be, especially for children.

The friends met nearly 20 years ago after their children developed problems with speech, and were advised to learn Makaton, a form of sign language.

The unique language programme is designed to support spoken language – signs and symbols are used alongside speech to help children who can not communicate or whose speech is unclear.

Makaton made such a huge difference to the lives of both of their families that they decided  to help others discover its benefits. They founded Singing Hands, multi-sensory music classes which are specially designed to help develop communication potential using Makaton.

Tracy explains: “We met at a support group for children with special needs. My son Miles was born with Down syndrome and Suzanne’s daughter, Ella, was diagnosed as having CHARGE Association, a rare condition that affects the ears, eyes, heart and growth and development.”

Ella had to have a tracheostomy at just nine months old and from the minute it was in place was unable to make a single sound.

Tracy says: “I was advised to watch a Makaton signed nursery video where they sang and signed nursery rhymes. Miles watched it and was transfixed. That led to a pivotal moment. It turned out there no other video like this in existence. I wanted to set about changing that.”

“We wanted to take our experiences to help others and we wanted to be all about inclusion, that was our motivation, so we set off on a mission to raise our community’s awareness about different ways to communicate.

“We visited our kids’ nurseries but then volunteered to go into other nurseries and support groups for families with children with special educational needs to show them our methods. We just wanted to get the message out.  Then we realised then we wanted to start and run our own classes.”

The pair - who both live in Twickenham - haven’t looked back.  They now also go into mainstream schools, specialist schools and hospitals to promote Makaton and have made dozens of videos which people can use at home. Every Tuesday they run individual and group sessions with children at Great Ormond Street Hospital who are unable to access nursery or school.

Tracy says: “Some children can’t speak, but they can sometimes sing the words they can’t physically say because singing and talking are accessed by different parts of the brain. When we sing we use both hemispheres of the brain and this is good for us. 

“My own son Miles went on to develop autism and suffered with terrible anxiety which affected his already limited speech. When he couldn’t talk, he could often relax through song.

“Singing releases endorphins and when he is dancing around and singing that is when I know he is in his happy place and that he is well.”

Their hard work has been recognised, and Suzanne and Tracy were asked to become Patrons of the Makaton Charity in June.

And their families have been supportive all the way. Tracy’s other son Dominic and Suzanne’s daughter Florence learnt Makaton fluently and instinctively became young carers. 

Both work part time supporting young people with special needs, Dominic at a local youth club and respite facility and Florence as a swimming teacher as well as  studying.

Tracy adds: “Never in a million years did we dream that it would grow like this. It has brought both our families so close and our “fans” tell us we are part of their families too. We just wanted to create something to support young peoples’ communication through signs and singing. Our children taught us so much, we just wanted to share that.”

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