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Angus grotto where Santa uses Makaton sign language for children who struggle to communicate

Santa uses the Makaton sign for reindeer with Noah Smith, 5. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.
Santa uses the Makaton sign for reindeer with Noah Smith, 5. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

On a farm near Kirriemuir there’s a grotto where Santa does Makaton – a type of sign language for children who struggle to communicate.

Peel Farm grotto is extremely popular with families of all kinds, including those of children with autism, Down’s syndrome and other conditions which create communication barriers.

It’s a place where children who might not otherwise be able to meet Father Christmas can tell him what they asked for in their letter to him – if that’s what they want to do, of course.

As well as being able to use Makaton signs – which supplement the spoken word – Santa knows that while every child loves him, not every child wants to cosy up for a chat.

Santa in his Peel Farm grotto, where Mike Carlin ensures every child can enjoy their visit. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCThomson.

So if kids don’t want to venture into his grotto, Santa might join them outside, perhaps to throw some snowballs or look at the farm animals.

The man behind the Peel Farm grotto is Mike Carlin, a speech and language therapy assistant practitioner for NHS Tayside who works with children and young people with additional support needs.

See Santa signing

He says: “Every child should have the opportunity to let Santa know what they would like for Christmas.”

As well as the grotto, the farm runs Santa breakfasts, and both offerings are fully inclusive.

Peel Farm’s grotto and Santa breakfasts for children are fully inclusive. Here Freddie Collier, 3, and brother Jack, 5, look delighted to meet Santa. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCThomson.

Taking the time to allow children to communicate

Some of the children are able and eager to chat to Santa. Some can’t talk at all and take a communication device to tell him what they want for Christmas.

Mike, who also runs a Makaton choir, says: “Every child is different.

“It’s about taking the time to allow¬†children to communicate.

“If they don’t want to come into the grotto, they don’t have to. Every visit is about that child.

“We get a lot of severely disabled children who come and we do our best to tailor their visit to them.”

Jackson Taylor, 4, gets his chance to meet Santa. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCThomson.

What is Makaton?

Makaton uses simple signs based on those in British Sign Language to augment speech and make communication easier.

Users talk and sign at the same time, with the signs helping to clarify what is being said.

This can help those with no speech or unclear speech, and reduce frustration.

Makaton is often used by people with autism, sensory impairment or neurological disorders which have affected their ability to communicate.

It is also used by children learning English as an additional language.

It is also frequently used in schools and nurseries and some parents even use Makaton with babies.

Parents and grandparents of young children might be familiar with Makaton from the CBeebies programme Something Special featuring Mr Tumble.

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