Improving communication, improving lives
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We have received a number of requests to create a guide to adding your own images and creating submats with Digital Talking Mats and this blog will show you how.

One of the features of Talking Mats is that we have developed a number of different symbol resources based on our research and clinical practice which cover a wide range of topics.
However, sometimes you may want to personalise what is being communicated about by adding your own images. You may also want to create a submat to explore an existing topic in more detail or you may want to create a completely new topic. In our training courses we explain how to do this when using the original Talking Mats.

However more and more people are now using the digital version of Talking Mats. In a previous blog we described how to add your own photos to the Digital Talking Mats.

We have now made a guide to help those who have the digital version to both add their own images and to create a submat with an example of a sub-mat with the topic “office”.

Download the following pdf to find out how to do it. dtm-a-guide-how-to-add-photos

We would love to hear any stories about making your own digital submats


This blog describes the foundation Talking Mats course we ran for members of the National Involvement Network. Following the seminars and the work to design a Charter for Involvement ‘Taking Part Talking Mat’ described in a previous blog , 16 people attended our  course run over three days with about a month between each session. The participants were 8 NIN members who all had a worker to support them as a learning partner. Their role was to assist with embedding the knowledge gained, and the implementation of the pilot ‘Taking Part Talking Mat’.  The learning partners were equal course participants, and expected to complete all course activities e.g. make a video of themselves carrying out a Talking Mat

In adapting the foundation Talking Mats course we learnt lots!  Here is a summary of key learning.

  1. That we had a great group of people who were keen to learn and develop their communication practice to become Talking Mats interviewers, or as we call them in Talking Mats ‘the listener’ ( as they are listening to someone’s views). They appeared to really enjoy the learning experience and were enthusiastic, embracing all tasks including making a  video of themselves using Talking Mats with someone in their organisation.  In Talking Mats we call the person doing the mat ‘the thinker’.
  2. That it was really important for us as trainers to focus on key information, not all information so as not to overload
  3. That movement helped learning. It was good to design activities with some potential for movement so that people were not sitting too long and that they could get up and stretch.movement For example, on the Talking Mats foundation course there is an activity that thinks about abstract and concrete language. We adapted this by using cut out coloured circles and got participants to think about the language load of a particular concept and place the symbol concept in the relevant circle.
  4. Teaching the principles of Talking Mats and getting the participants to follow the rules e.g asking open questions, introducing blanks, the check and change stage was relatively easy. What was more problematic was supporting a listener to be flexible and person centred in the way they introduced an concept . Often it is important to give a relevant example to support a thinker’s understanding and our listeners struggled with that.  To overcome this, we wrote specific examples on the back of the cards and designed some activities to give time to practice. Repetition of learning was important
  5. A detailed script helped, including what to say to introduce the Talking Mat
  6. That you needed to pay particular attention to the quieter members of the group –coffee breaks proved to be a useful time to catch up on their thoughts and feelings
  7. The role of the learning partner is critical. We were very fortunate in our partners. They were natural enablers and it showed. We relied on partners sharing a set of values, and believing that people with learning disabilities could learn and be a key member of the pilot project..  One person did not complete the project maybe because she felt uncomfortable. It made us realise if we were to do this again we should be explicit about values  and the  roles of the learning partner  from the outset
  8. That the recording of interviews needs support, and it was key that there were was both a NIN member and a learning partner to enable that to happen
  9. That our partnership with ARC Scotland was key as they provided individual follow up advice to each of the organisations involved and provided a source of learning reinforcement , observation and support to each of the NIN members and their learning partner. They were also able to feedback to the course organisers about any areas of difficulty that needed further attention and input
  10. That Talking Mats empowers both the thinker and the listener. It gives a structure to make a conversation flow. The training itself not only gave the NIN members who attended a tool to communicate with others about how they feel, but also seems to have had a positive knock on effect on their confidence and we hope that continues.

We are incredibly proud of our cohort of trained Talking Mats listeners.  As part of the project they have been interviewing other service users in their organisations about 2 aspects of the Charter for Involvement –‘independence’ and ‘being involved in their community’ – ( 2 abstract concepts, as the NIN listeners will tell you).    Not only has this included more people in service evaluation but has led to making changes that are improving lives.

For example

One woman was no longer being taken to church and she is now going and starting to be part of a local church community

One man who everyone thought was doing really well living on his own expressed a view that he was feeling  lonely, He is now being supported to identify if there are enough people interested to start a local group.

Two videos were made by the group the first shows  what they found out using their Talking Mats tool 

Over the past 9 months Rhona and I have been delighted and privileged to work on the Charter for Involvement with members of The National Involvement Network (NIN) . The NIN is a Scottish wide group of people with learning disabilities who want to have more say over the services they use

They have developed the Charter for Involvement.  This Charter has 12 clear statements that set out how people want to be involved in their own lives, their services and their communities. For example

  • Statement 2- We have the right to be live our lives independently
  • Statement 3 –We must be involved in our communities.

Organisations from a wide range of settings sign up to the Charter and commit to ensure their services put the statements into practice, as they are relevant to people everywhere.   ARC  Scotland is the organisation that supports the work of the NIN.

Partnership working

At a Scottish Government Keys to Life event at the Scottish Parliament James Fletcher Director of ARC Scotland and Lois got talking about how we could help services reflect on the extent they were meeting the Charter aims from the perspective of people who need extra support with communication, and  the seeds of this project were sown. Feedback was it can be difficult for  organisations to support the people who use their services to  become  truly connected and involved in the  local community  . In addition there can be a tension about supporting   people to be more independent and autonomous when we live in a risk averse  service culture.

Could we develop a Talking mat that would allow members of the NIN  to explore  statements 2  and 3 of the Charter . What aspects of living independently and being involved in their community were going well for them and what aspects were not going so well?     Keys to Life was recognising the importance of social connectedness  and the subsequent ARC application for money to do this in partnership with Talking Mats was successful .

Developing the Talking Mat

The first task in creating a Talking Mats is to unpick the meaning in this case the meaning of the two statements .    What do we mean when we say we are involved or that we are independent?   What does successful involvement or independence look like?   To explore this we held three seminars with NIN members in Edinburgh , Glasgow and then Dundee . The groups initially started with a blank sheet of paper on which we would mind map their thoughts and ideas.As the seminar progressed we would bring in ideas from the earlier groups and after much debate reached a consensus.   It was recognised there were too many items for one Talking Mat.  It was decided to create  two  Mats,   one that would deal with words and symbols  that were easier to understand and more likely to be in people’s lived experience


It included options such as Leisure centre, Neighbours ,Work/ volunteering. The  other Talking Mat would contain the more abstract words and symbols . e.g Being accepted , Taking risks

It was recognised from the outset that there would be some people with a learning disability who would not be able to respond to the more abstract Talking Mat.

Design style

The Charter for Involvement has its own design and style and therefore it was agreed that The Talking Mat would fit into its brand and that we would work with their artist. The Talking Mats are called Taking Part (1 for the more  concrete mat ) and Taking Part (2 for the more abstract)   Once the Mat was created the training with Nin Members could commence but that is for another blog!