Can young people with severe communication difficulties use sign to engage in discussion and narrative? We'll show you how they do it here

About this Event



This event is all about learning from young people with severe learning difficulties who have problems communicating in speech. We will explore the many creative ways that we have seen them using gestures and Key Word Sign (eg.Makaton, Signalong and Làmh). Teachers and Speech and Language Therapists often focus on individual sign learning , but careful observation shows that our students are capable of so much more than this. We will demonstrate how they tell stories in conversation, holding the floor and asserting themselves, and actively engaging in discussion. Supporting these skills means abandoning our preconceptions about their capabilities and being open to learning from and with them as co-producers of dialogue. Led by SLT Charlotte Parkhouse and teacher Gareth Smith (Communicapers and Nicola Grove the originator of Storysharing® ( We are drawing on original research first presented in the groundbreaking 2019 publication Manual Sign Acquisition in Children with Developmental Disabilities, now available in paperback and individual chapter purchase at




We have started a youtube channel which can be found  here. On the channel you can find lots of videos aimed at motivating communication and creating opportunities for families to play. The videos above are some of what we do but there will be many more over on our channel so click on the Youtube logo below and enjoy :-)

If you would like us to make a video about something specific, for example to help with a bedtime routine, then don't hesitate to leave a comment on a video or email us at







Our Work in Schools

Fundamentally we are educators, creating learning environments in which pupils are captivated and thrive. We nurture a context for learning which enables pupils to feel confident enough to take risks with communication. Specialising in working with pupils with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities we collaborate closely with schools to offer a bespoke offer, perfect for their unique settings.

With a combined experience of over 30 years in the field of Severe, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties and Complex Autism, we have a robust understanding of a broad range of interventions, assessment frameworks and curricula approaches. This knowledge, alongside our expertise in cognitive development, forms the foundation of our synthesised practice which we bring to our workshops in schools.

Additionally, we offer training events including accredited Makaton courses, tailor made signing courses to meet a specific need or situation, engaging learners (either as a CPD session or as an active learning session with pupils present) and assessing success with Routes For Learning, Engagement Profiles, Sounds of Intent, P Scales or creating an assessment tool that meets your needs.

Charlotte is a registered Speech and Language Therapist and Regional Makaton Tutor and Gareth is an experienced Special Education teacher, middle leader, musician and accredited Arts Award provider at Discover and Explore level.



Our Work with community groups

We operate a social enterprise model whereby we work with the community, charities and local groups to positively benefit the Complex Needs community. The work we carry out with groups helps us to work directly with families and with organisations having a direct impact on the lives of people with Complex Needs.

Our work with charities such as the incredible More Than Words has included running regular free at point of use communication and play sessions with families of children who use Makaton as part of their communication profile, signing advent calendar videos and Makachat sessions for dedicated family support and conversation around Makaton use.

We are currently looking for opportunites to work with more organisations who support adults with Learning Difficulties. If you are interested in working with us please contact us at

'I thought the training was great as was Charlotte. She is so enthusiastic and passionate about it and such great fun! I couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by. Well worth going.'

'It was one of the best training sessions I've experienced on the subject, mainly due to the enthusiasm of the tutor who was highly motivating.  I'm sure that we can put our learning to good use in the future.'

Makaton taster session for a South London PreSchool

About us


Mission Statement

We will achieve our vision through:

  • Providing Makaton signing spaces enabling conversation, play and narrative for people with complex communication difficulties and their families/ communicative partners.
  • Personalised and unique musical engagement for learning techniques to ensure that every voice is valued.
  • Strengthening connections with families to ensure easy access to opportunities.
  • Providing bespoke training, support and accessible resources which empower others.


To make communication acquisition irresistible for people with complex needs by evoking motivation for communication.

Action Research

Communicapers are commited to ensuring that their practice is action research led to both maintain their high impact on learners' communication development and to share their professional practice successes with the complex needs community. Here are a few of the projects we have been involved in... Communication Matters Conference 2016 // Making Makaton Musical In September 2016 Communicapers presented at the Communication Matters Conference in Leeds. The presentation was a platform for sharing their practice which they had been developing over the previous three years. It focused on their development of a new intervention group within their school called 'Makatones'. This new intervention aimed to use music to motivate Makaton signing. It then progressed into a more complex intervention aiming to help learners share personal stories and to have conversation agency during social interactions. A write up of the presentation can be found here shortly.


For all enquiries please contact us at

Charlotte & Gareth

​​​​​​​​​ Charlotte Parkhouse Charlotte is a Speech and Language Therapist with twenty six years’ experience of working with children and adults with communication difficulties. Her particular passion is in the sphere of Severe Learning Difficulties, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties and Complex and Severe Autism. She is currently a Leader in a Special School in which she has developed creative approaches to supporting the communication skills of learners with complex needs. Charlotte particularly embraces the use of Makaton blended with a personal narrative approach to enable youngsters to express themselves meaningfully. She became a Makaton Regional Tutor in 2012 and has subsequently led many Foundation Courses, Enhancement Workshops and informal training for professionals, families and carers. ​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​ Gareth Smith ​​​​​​​ Gareth is a musician, experienced teacher and educator of children with Severe Learning Difficulties, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties and Complex and Severe Autism both at Riverside School in Kent and in the wider London Community. He initially specialised as a SEN Early Years Practitioner before focusing on using music to motivate communication with children and young adults with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities. He has presented his work on ‘Making Makaton Musical’ at the Communication Matters Conference with his colleague and professional partner Charlotte Parkhouse.