Friday, 23 February 2018

Wikipedia article of the day for February 23, 2018

The Wikipedia article of the day for February 23, 2018 is A Cure for Pokeritis.
A Cure for Pokeritis is an American short silent film starring John Bunny and Flora Finch, released on February 23, 1912. A domestic comedy, it depicts a woman who stops her husband's gambling habit by having her cousin stage a fake police raid on his weekly poker game. It was one of many shorts produced by Vitagraph Studios, whose popularity made Bunny and Finch early film stars. Although its style of humor is dated, it is a historically important representative of its period and genre. The film was an early example of efforts to move beyond the conventions of stage plays: during the police raid, action took place in both the foreground and the background, with the actors moving between them. This cinematography technique improved the realism and pacing of the scene. A Cure for Pokeritis may be the first depiction of poker in film. Like Cassius Marcellus Coolidge's Dogs Playing Poker paintings, it reflects the early 20th-century perception of the game as a male-dominated social vice.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Inspiring Others: Episode Seventeen

Thought of the Day: Learn to Love Ourselves

Learn to Love Ourselves

People look for love through relationships. Yet this love is coloured with expectations. When these expectations are not fulfilled there is a tendency to get upset. Before we can love others we need to learn to love ourselves.

Wikipedia article of the day for February 22, 2018

The Wikipedia article of the day for February 22, 2018 is Æthelflæd.
Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians (c. 870 – 918), ruled Mercia in the English Midlands from 911 until her death. The oldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex, she married Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, who ruled western Mercia when the eastern part was occupied by the Vikings. After her husband's death, she ruled Mercia and played a leading role in recovering southern England from the Vikings in cooperation with her brother, King Edward the Elder. She fortified many towns, sent an army to capture Derby, and secured the surrender of Leicester without a fight. The Viking leaders of York offered her their loyalty, but she died before she could take up the offer. Her daughter Ælfwynn briefly ruled Mercia, but was seized by Edward, who took her into Wessex and brought Mercia under his direct rule. Historians disagree whether Mercia was an independent kingdom under Æthelred and Æthelflæd, but they agree that Æthelflæd played an important part in ending Viking rule in England. As a rare English warrior queen, and a successful one, she has captivated Medieval and modern writers.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Enhancing Parent and Child Communication: Using Makaton Signing for Babies

Image result for makaton


There has been a recent surge of interest in using signing with all babies and young children, not just those with special needs. This can be viewed as positive in terms of making signing more acceptable and supporting integration. This paper will look at some of the research into the use of signing and report on findings from pilot studies carried out in 2005 by the Makaton Vocabulary Development Project (MVDP), which have demonstrated the benefits of using Makaton signing to enhance communication between parents and their babies. 

What is Makaton? 

Makaton was developed in the 1970’s by Margaret Walker, a Speech and Language Therapist, working in a long stay hospital. A small number of signs were introduced to a group of deaf adults who also had severe learning disabilities. It was found that all members of the group were able to learn and use the signs. The same signs were then taught to an adult population of hearing individuals with severe learning disabilities and later children, with the same success. Today, Makaton is used by a wide range of users of different ages and abilities both as an alternative and augmentative mode of communication. 

The signs used with the Makaton Language Programme are all taken from natural sign languages. In the UK the signs used are from British Sign Language (BSL). In Germany, for example, the signs are all from German Sign Language (DGS). Natural sign languages also contain regional dialects, so there may be a number of different signs for the same word. Makaton selects one version of the sign according to how iconic it is, how easy to produce and how distinguishable it is from other signs that are used. The selected sign is then used across the whole country. The aim of Makaton is to support spoken language so the signs are used with speech in spoken word order. 

Initially Makaton focused on the use of signs with speech to support communication. In the mid 1980’s graphic symbols were introduced, offering a more concrete reference to facilitate understanding, aid memory and as a mode of communication for those people who do not use speech or signing. 

There are approximately 450 concepts in the Makaton Core Vocabulary and importantly, for every sign there is a corresponding symbol. Makaton also has a Resource Vocabulary of over 7,000 concepts. 

In recent years, the wider mainstream population has shown an increased interest in Makaton. The BBC programme, ‘Something Special’ uses Makaton and is now in the top three most popular mainstream children’s programmes. 

The popularity of signing, particularly Makaton, has coincided with a new trend for baby signing in the UK. 

The MVDP was contacted by a number of Makaton users, parents, carers and professionals who were concerned about claims that signing could help children talk earlier and make them more intelligent. There was also concern that the various baby signing programmes available were actually causing confusion and not supporting integration. 


Interest in signing with babies developed following two research programmes which were carried out simultaneously in Canada and America in the 1990’s by Joseph Garcia, Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. 

Garcia found that children whose first language was sign language, i.e. those born to deaf parents, communicated earlier with signs than those whose first language was spoken. He also noticed that hearing children who signed had better vocabularies and used words more effectively than non signing children of a similar age. As a result, Garcia conducted research which demonstrated that American Sign Language could be used with hearing children of hearing parents as method of communication and for aiding spoken language acquisition. 

Acredolo and Goodwyn conducted their research in the United States and found that babies who used symbolic gestures early, learned to speak more readily than babies who did not. They devised a system of gestures based on their observations which they called ‘baby signs’. During their research they encouraged a group of families to use baby signs and compared them with another group who were not using baby signs. 

The results suggested that signing babies: 

• Scored higher in intelligence tests; 
• Understood more words; 
• Had larger vocabularies; 
• Engaged in more sophisticated play. 

Parents also reported increased communication, decreased frustration and an ‘enriched parent infant bond’. These positive findings created a vast amount of interest and the phenomenon of baby signing was born. 

These findings support earlier research on the use of signing to encourage communication as carried out by Walker, and Bonvillian et al. 

In the 1980’s Bonvillian and his colleagues followed a group of deaf children and noticed that they began to use recognised signs at 8.5 months on average, earlier than the age at which hearing babies develop spoken language. There was also evidence that their vocabularies grew faster than that of hearing babies. Bonvillian also identified that non-verbal individuals, including those on the autistic spectrum could process information better through visual rather than auditory channels and could learn signs when they had been unable to learn speech. 

It became apparent that a programme of research was needed to look at the benefits of using UK signs. As a leading UK charity specializing in communication and learning disabilities, the MVDP decided to undertake the research. 

Pilot Studies 

The MVDP organised two Makaton Signing for Babies pilot groups. The first was in Northumberland, (North of England), in a Sure Start setting. Sure Start was founded in 1999 to provide support for preschool children and their parents. The group had ten children aged between three and ten months and was led by a Speech and Language Therapist. 

The second group was held in Hastings (South of England). This was a Post-Natal group with seven children aged between eight and twelve months and was led by a Makaton Senior Tutor.  

A mini-pilot was conducted with an organisation called ‘Young Mums To Be’, based in the Midlands, led by a Makaton Regional Tutor.

It was apparent that the Makaton Signing for Babies training had to be for all babies, no baby should be excluded. In any post-natal group there is likely to be a child with special needs. Children may not have identified needs at such an early age but can be identified as likely to be at risk of developing communication or learning disabilities. 

Each pilot ran for six sessions, once a week for one hour. 

The sessions contained information for parents such as what is signing, how it may help, important skills to look out for in babies like eye contact, turn-taking, imitation, pointing, vocalising and practical hints and tips like how to hold a baby and sign at the same time. 

The Vocabulary 

The MVDP contacted the Makaton users, parents, carers and professionals who had previously contacted Makaton about signing with babies and young children, to ask which vocabulary they thought was necessary for any baby signing training. The vocabulary requests were large and varied but throughout there was a common vocabulary. Interestingly, many of these words and signs were already in the first two stages of the Makaton Core Vocabulary, which reinforced the universality of a core vocabulary. 


As expected, not all the children started speaking and/or signing during the training. There was no evidence that the children started speaking earlier than expected. However, a number of other positive developments took place in both the parents and the babies, including: 

• Parents – growth in confidence in communicating with their babies; 
• Parents – increased skills as communicators and interactors; 
• Parents – increased amount of time spent interacting with their children; 
• Parents – increased awareness of their own communication skills and their baby’s; 
• Babies – skills such as eye contact, attention and concentration were obvious; 
• Babies – pointing became an important part of developing communication. 

The pilot studies were followed-up with a questionnaire which was sent out six months after the training ended. The questionnaire contained ten questions and space for further comments. Ten from seventeen questionnaires were completed and returned. 

The responses showed that: 

• Participants agreed that the information given about how, why and when the signs could be used was helpful; 
• As well as talking this through in the sessions, handouts were given to parents as reminders; 
• The signs had been shown at the sessions and there had been repetition throughout the training which had helped to build confidence; 
• All participants were still using signs; 
• All participants had tried to encourage other family members or friends to sign; 
• Fathers did not generally attend the training so it was interesting to see that fathers were involved in the signing too; 
• The involvement of siblings was very positive and is something the MVDP are trying to encourage; • The vocabulary was right for the parents and their child. 

Parents reported that it had: 

• Eased frustration for their child; 
• Helped them as parents to understand their child’s needs; 
• Been ‘a pleasure’ and they had ‘happier children’ and were happier parents; 
• Given them a sense of achievement; 
• The children were more attentive and focussed. 
• The majority of the families had not used symbols. Makaton symbols were introduced in this training and not covered in depth. However, one family was using symbols alongside pictures and another family reported that they were planning to use symbols to support potty training. • All participants confirmed that they would continue to use Makaton. 
• Four parents stated that they definitely would continue using Makaton with one mum wanting to train as a trainer. For the others, they felt that now was not the time for more training but they may in the future. Some wanted to meet regularly to practice and others felt that various resources in the form of books and videos/DVDs were sufficient. 


Baby signing is a new phenomenon and there is currently little quantitative or qualitative research and no long-term research related specifically to signing for babies. We hope that at some point there will be but in the meantime we are collating anecdotal evidence and observations, but, even from these, clear patterns are beginning to emerge. 

At no stage have the MVDP assessed intelligence as carried out in some of the research in America. However, our studies have shown that, following the training, parents were interacting more often and more confidently with their child, and were more aware of their child’s needs. The children were more attentive, more confident and having fun, all important skills for learning. 

The MVDP is committed to continuing to develop this programme and is considering conducting more formal long-term research into the benefits of using signing with babies. In the meantime however, we can see the value that Makaton Signing for Babies has in supporting inclusion and enhancing parent and child communication. 


Acredolo, L.P. and Goodwyn, S.W. (1998) ‘Symbolic Gesturing in Normal Infants’ Child Development 59, pp 450-466. Bonvillian, J.D. Orlansky, M.D. and Novack, L.L. (1983) ‘Development milestones: Sign language acquisition and motor development’ Child Development, 54, pp 1435-1445. Garcia, J. ‘Sign with your Baby: How to communicate with infants before they can speak’ Seattle, W.A. Published by Northlight Communication 1999. Powell, G. (1999) ‘Current research findings to support the use of signs with adults and children’. Available from The Makaton Charity. Walker, M – various articles. See the research section of the Makaton website at In particular: • Walker, M. (1977). Teaching sign language to deaf mentally handicapped adults. In ‘Language and Mentally Handicapped’. Conference Proceedings, 3. Kidderminster, Worcs: British Institute of Mental Handicap • Walker, M. (1986). Understanding Makaton. ‘Special Children’, 1,6, pages 22-23 

Baby Peter: the lessons we have to learn by Esther Rantzen

Please note this blog may contain words that may be upsetting

Baby Peter: the lessons we have to learn

For Baby Peter, the revulsion and shame of a nation have come too late. Now, says Esther Rantzen, we must confront the truth about his killers if we are to protect other children from a similar fate.

Every few years, a case of child abuse creates headlines so horrific that it is tempting to turn the page, shut our eyes and block our ears. And yet over the past 50 years we have witnessed a catalogue of horror; a child under five, according to the NSPCC, is killed every 10 days by a parent or carer. Jasmine Beckford, Heidi Koseda, Kimberley Carlile, Tyra Henry, Tommy Lee Bannister, so many more. The list of names should be read out once a year to keep the memories alive. At the time each one is reported, it seems uniquely awful, we react with disbelief, and then do our best to forget it.
Baby Peter's death, in spite of 60 visits by social workers and health visitors who should have saved his life, caused outrage when it was reported last year. For a time, it appeared that we would be spared the full horror of his torture and murder while Haringey Council argued against naming his killers in order to protect the identity of other children in the family. But yesterday the details were at last published after a High Court judge said that "the boil must be lanced."
He was right. We cannot pretend that this avoidable tragedy happened a world away, in a concentration camp, slum or distant shanty town. Baby Peter was tormented and killed in our own back yard by ordinary-looking young people. His murderers lived in an unremarkable house in a north London suburb, in one of the richest nations on earth. Now that the murderers' faces peer out of our newspapers and television screens, we can see that these are not obvious monsters with tentacles and horns. Peter's mother, 28-year- old Tracey Connelly, has a pleasant enough face, plump cheeks, smiling mouth. Steven Barker, her boyfriend, blonde and impassive, could be one of a million young men staring at the camera without expression. Jason Owen, Barker's brother, looks respectable enough in his pin-striped suit.
Did their ordinariness deceive all the professionals who missed the clues that should have been obvious: the baby's broken back, eight fractured ribs, torn-out fingernails and toenails. Did it cause them to excuse the disgusting scene behind the front door of that "unremarkable" house, described by the police as being filled with human and dog faeces, a litter of dead rats and chickens alongside a dismembered rabbit?
Certainly, Connelly's manipulative way of giving her social workers the story they wanted to hear, the description of a day spent "playing" with her children, deceived them so successfully that they failed to notice that the chocolate on Baby Peter's face had been smeared there to disguise the bruises, or that he had been punched in the face so violently that, after his death, one of his teeth was found inside his stomach. We cannot excuse it, but can we explain the fact that these details were missed or ignored until his death?
The truth is that ordinary-looking people can conceal crimes so hideous that they are impossible to imagine. Only by assimilating that fact can we take lessons from it. Some of what we learn may be difficult to accept. For instance, we now know that Steven Barker,
6ft 4in and 18 stone, has an IQ of about 60. Many child abusers have IQs of less than 70. In an age when we rightly try to protect people with mental disabilities against stigma and discrimination, it has become fashionable also to protect their parental rights.
But we must, if we are to save lives like Baby Peter's, recognise the fact that their children are at risk. Add to it Barker's known record – that, as a child, he enjoyed torturing animals, skinning frogs and breaking their legs, and was prosecuted by the RSPCA – and a very disturbing picture emerges. Serial killers often begin their career by torturing animals. Ten years ago Barker and Owen were arrested when their grandmother, aged 82, accused them of torturing her in a bid to get her to change her will – accusations that
never reached a trial because she died a few months later.
Connelly managed to convince her social workers of a crucial lie – that these two sadistic torturers were not living with her and her children. Clearly, she was in their thrall. Why? We now know that she was not the brave, struggling single mother she tried to appear to be.
Her own childhood could hardly have been worse. Her father was a convicted paedophile; her mother, rumoured to be a prostitute, has been described as a "park-bench drunk". Her childhood home was as filthy and chaotic as the home she was to create for her own children. With dog faeces on the floor and no sheets on the beds, she went to school dressed in torn, dirty clothes. So badly at risk was the young Tracey considered to be that she was sent by social services to a boarding school for children with severe problems. It failed to stop the spiral of abuse.
But if Tracey learned nothing else there, she discovered how to front up to social workers. One senior professional now working in the voluntary sector told me, "You must remember that most clients are not torturers and murderers. They are genuinely trying to solve their problems, and to help them, a social worker must develop a relationship of trust."
A police officer who knew Connelly told me she had enormous skill in providing the image social workers wanted to see. Yes, she may have been an incompetent mother, but she appeared to be valiantly doing her best, putting her children first, loving and trying to care for them.
My social work colleague told me, "Child abusers are often very skilled at holding the lie. Look at Karen Matthews, who drugged, kidnapped and tied up her own daughter while she convinced the police and media that she was desperately concerned to find her. She held that lie right up until the moment Shannon was discovered. That's why social workers have such a difficult task, to maintain a relationship of trust with their clients while recognising that they may be conspiring to conceal a terrible crime."
I have fallen for a similar deception. I regularly used to visit a care home in Camden, north London, to befriend some of the children there. Only 30 years later did I discover that the man in charge was systematically sexually abusing 10 of the children. He deceived me and the local authority that employed him. Child abusers are ruthless, sadistic criminals, who will go to any lengths to avoid discovery.
But obviously we must do better, uncover the truth far earlier if we are ever to stop this appalling catalogue, this spiral of abuse down the generations.
In 1986 I was persuaded by the murder of toddler Kimberley Carlile, who was starved to death in a locked bedroom, to launch the children's helpline, ChildLine. Then the founder of an incest survivor's group told me, "The only evidence the experts will accept is the dead body of a child." His own father had so brutally abused him and his brothers and sisters that the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that a prosecution "would not be in the public interest, because the details of the crimes were so horrific".
The DPP was wrong. The High Court Judge who allowed the details of Baby Peter's case to be published was right. No matter how much it hurts, we have to be told the truth about his brutal murderers. Only then will we recognise that abusers look as ordinary as the rest of us; that fecklessness and incompetence may conceal sadism and cruelty; that wickedness comes in many forms.
All of us, neighbours, relatives, professionals, have a duty to stay vigilant and report what we see. It is too late, alas, for Baby Peter. But it may not be too late for the baby who may be killed next week, or the week after, until we recognise the truth.
The NSPCC Child Protection Helpline can be rung in confidence: 0808 800 5000; ChildLine: 0800 1111

Inspiring Others: Episode Sixteen