News - 20th April 2022

The key to communication


Key Word Sign (KWS) supports communication and language development of children and adults with communication difficulties with speech, sign and gesture.


parkrunner Tanya Jarvis’ son Kobe uses Key Word Sign, which led Tanya to become a KWS Presenter. Tanya kindly volunteered to create a KWS grid explaining what parkrun is and how to get involved, and has also shared her own story to highlight how important it is to value every person’s way of communicating.


Kobe was diagnosed with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome (22q) at 18 months and was diagnosed with autism just before he turned four. 22q, or Velo Cardio Facial Syndrome, is a genetic syndrome caused by a deletion of a small segment of the long arm of chromosome 22. This diagnosis was a relief for my husband Jeremy and I because it gave us a reason as to why Kobe’s milestones were not being reached.


Speech and language delay are the most common clinical features of 22q and our biggest concern was communication. Key Word Sign, formerly known as Makaton, was introduced to me by therapists shortly after Kobe was diagnosed. KWS is used with children and adults that can hear. Key Word Signing borrows signs from Auslan. Auslan is the cultural language of the Australian Deaf community. Only the ‘key words’ are signed and speech is always used with signs.


Kobe was surrounded by signing and visuals to support his communication. He was exposed to a signing environment for 12 months until he actually signed back to me for the first time, which was ‘help’. At the age of seven he knew 150 signs and could put seven signs together. When he was 10, his verbal language exploded. Kobe always has something to say! Signing may be used to supplement his speech when words are difficult to understand.


Key Word Sign has really helped us to understand Kobe and has increased his confidence in using speech. It has enabled Kobe to express himself, reduce his frustration and comment about what he has done, is doing and is going to do.


The use of Key Word Sign is a family and community affair and we have fully embraced it. My daughter Gemma enjoyed teaching her brother. Friends and family wanted to know what Kobe was signing so we in turn taught them signing so they could interact with him. Kobe’s soccer team and swimming instructor learnt Key Word Signing, which further expanded his communication partners. Signing is fun!




Running clears my head, regulates my body, and enables me to gather my thoughts and plan that never ending ’to do’ list. I discovered parkrun during the pandemic when my cousin Peter, a passionate parkrunner, invited me to go along with him. I loved it.




The age range and variety of parkrunners was inspiring, but what really stood out to me was the interaction and support between walkers and runners and the volunteer course marshals. The marshals encouraged and guided everyone, and in turn everybody acknowledged and thanked them in their own way – some verbally, some with a simple nod or wave. It just goes to show that there are many different ways that people communicate, and we must value each and every one of them.


CleanShot 2022-04-21 at 18.58.58


You can download the guide here.


Tanya Jarvis

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