Learning Disabilities & Autism Real Lives

Makaton Friendly DJ spreads joy during lockdown

Jake Glennon - DJ Jay

When lockdown struck, 17 year old Jake Glennon, also know has DJ Jay, felt it was important to provide a fun inclusive environment for young people with Learning Disability, Autism and /or Communication difficulties whose worlds had become restrictive due to self-isolating at home.

As Jake’s diary of event bookings was cancelled, he decided to use the time and technology to run events on Facebook live, making them open to more people. The events ran every Saturday and Sunday and incorporated music, fun, dance, and Makaton! They were enjoyed by many people and families who looked forward to joining each weekend, making song requests, adding comments to the stream, and feeling safe in an environment where they could be included.

This was impressive for a young man who left school less than a year ago, but Jake’s caring inclusion story starts before then. Jake has always shared an incredibly special bond with his cousin Alice from the first time they met. Whenever the two families would meet Jake would always be found at Alice’s side entertaining her, chatting to her, and helping her navigate her way through whatever was happening.

Alice who has a learning disability and uses Makaton to communicate needs that extra understanding to access everyday things you and I take for granted. On a family holiday several years ago Alice and Jake went along to the on-site entertainment where the host kept looking right through Alice as if she weren’t there. Alice did not understand why she was not being given the chance to go up on stage or win a prize and she got upset. Eventually Jake took matters into his own hands and gave the host a prize to take to Alice – Alice was delighted.

Jake, who was at this time already running his own local DJ business decided that he never wanted any children to feel like this at his events. He wanted everyone to feel included and so he completed formal Makaton training to support this.

Jake immediately saw the benefit Makaton would bring to other entertainers and so he helped design a special taster Workshop for Party Entertainers, where he gave a presentation on how Makaton had helped him become a better, more inclusive entertainer. It inspired them all!

Following this Jake received his Makaton Friendly status – the first DJ/Entertainer in the UK to do this. Jake and Alice were invited to attend Positive Choices – an annual conference for student nurses supporting people with learning disabilities. Jake ran workshops demonstrating how he uses Makaton, the message being if he can learn Makaton to support entertainment surely they too can learn Makaton to support people like Alice when in their care, when patients are at their most anxious and vulnerable. Together Alice and Jake have inspired many people.

Last year Jake was nominated and selected as a BBC Teen Awards finalist, he was invited to Kensington Palace where he met The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Taking feedback from his early lockdown sessions Jake has now developed a series of online events for the whole family to attend. With support from NHS England Transforming Care funding a number of families have been able to sign up to a series on 4 sessions where DJ Jay is the host for activities, song, dance and Makaton, improving wellbeing and support to the whole family.

Jake is an inspiration to those he meets and continues to rise to the challenges placed in the way of people like Alice, although to him he is not doing anything special he is just being Jake.

Makaton is a language programme that combines signs, symbols and speech to provide multiple ways for someone to communicate. The use of signs can support people who have unclear or no speech and symbols can help those who have limited speech and cannot, or prefer not to sign. Makaton transforms the lives of those with communication difficulties by giving them a way to express themselves independently which is proven to overcome frustration and promote inclusion. There are currently in excess of 2.2 million people in the UK with speech, language and communication difficulties and over 1 million Makaton users.

The Makaton Charity exists to ensure that everyone living with learning or communication difficulties has the tools and resources they need to understand and be understood. The Charity aims to ensure that as many people as possible have access to Makaton, to achieve our goal of a truly inclusive society. Visit makaton.org to find out more about the impact Makaton has on beneficiaries and their families or support networks.

Written by Amanda Glennon (Makaton Tutor)

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