Author Archives: Guest Blogger

Test Driving a Talking Mat

Ruth's car ready and waiting to explore Harris!


Guest Blog by Ruth Cape 

Ruth is Lois Cameron’s daughter and she has contributed the following guest blog about her recent experience of taking and passing her driving test and how using a Talking Mat the night before her test developed a nerve controlling action plan!

My Driving test -a  nerve wracking prospect  

Even the simplest of actions within the context of a nerve-wracking event can be magnified to stomach churning proportions. The thought of opening a car door and putting on a seatbelt has never before given me much trouble.  Now suddenly I’m imagining fumbling with the handle, not finding the seatbelt lock – or worse, forgetting the thing altogether; while trying to look cool and collected in front of a reportedly ‘no-benefit-of-the-doubt’ driving test examiner. It was the night before my practical driving test. I had recently failed on a nerves-getting-the-better-of-me manoeuvre and knew I’d be unlikely to get another test for 3 months if this one didn’t work out. I live on the Isle of Harris. Winter gales make cycling difficult, if not often impossible. Winter busses are sporadic. My housemate-cum-chauffeur-cum-co-driver had just left the island. My driving lessons in Stornoway required a four hour round trip. To put it lightly, I was pretty keen to pass. If I’m honest, even if I knew I could get another test the next week and if my day to day life wouldn’t be much effected by the use of a car, simply the thought of 40 minutes in that vehicle-turned-pressure-cooker, every move scrutinised by a stranger in a high-vis would have given me the tangled stomach I suffered from that test eve.

Talking Mat trialled as a pre-driving test nerve-gatherer

Timing was on my side this time round; my mum – Lois – and her colleague – Sally – happened to be on a Talking Mats training visit to Stornoway that pre-test day. Finished with a day of training, we met for dinner and, as plates were cleared away and calming herbal tea was ordered, out came the pen, paper and post-it notes. This – I gather – was the first Talking Mat trialled as a pre-driving test nerve-gatherer; proving just how versatile a tool it is. With a top-scale to gauge my confidence levels, different aspects of the test were handed to me and ended up in a cluster around the lower two steps of the scale; opening the door and putting on my seatbelt sat just a little above parallel parks and three point turns. While this mostly went to show that it was the whole experience that was knotting my insides, it allowed a valuable opening for discussion on how to go about unknotting, or at least concealing the knots.

Reframing thoughts and strategies for success 

Re-framing the nerves to focused adrenalin, positive mantra, power posing and deep breaths – the mediation of the Mat provided the opportunity to work through strategies for success. I went to bed, glad – at least – to have had something to do to that evening to channel the nervous energy. The following morning I opened that car door, put on my seatbelt and proceeded to pass with one minor. Now, I can’t allow Talking Mats to take all the credit for this turn of events, but I can definitely praise the tool and thank my two informal practitioners for keeping me focused. From this experience, I’m sure there is potential for a wider Talking Mats scope for tackling anxiety and for use in relation to stressful situations.

Now Harris has opened up, and I’m off to explore…

A Psychologist’s thoughts on the accredited training course


The following are thoughts from Jenni, a Psychologist who attended the Talking Mats Accredited training course.

‘Meeting with five colleagues from Sweden, England and various parts of Scotland for the accredited Talking Mats Training this month has been a fascinating experience. I have been accustomed to using Talking Mats with children and young people over the past seven years, and have seen the value of the approach in helping young people give their views for a meeting – particularly if they have communication difficulties and would struggle either through lack of confidence or skill to speak out when others are present.
However, we were not just a group who work with children and young people. Most came from health settings and examples were drawn from elderly patients, some with dementia, others with autism. As we shared our videos and told our stories it was obvious to me how relevant Talking Mats can be in those settings too. Some of the stories shook me. One person told how she was deep in conversation with a lady over her Talking Mat when the tea lady burst in, poured a cup of tea for the resident, asked if she was having a good time playing at puzzles, then left before any answer could be given. Time and again we found ourselves asking what is it about our institutions that puts routines above real communication and above proper respect for an individual.

In preparing a video to bring to the training I undertook a Talking Mat with my father, who is almost 90. It was a new kind of conversation for us both, but we were surprised – the structure allowed us to talk about what was going well and what needed a bit of an adjustment in domestic life and we both learned from the conversation. I think we will do it again!

Indeed, at one stage in the training we were asked to dream big and look at how we might want to take use of Talking Mats into new areas. I identified some good friends – one 91, one 101 and one 104 – where conversation can become rather one-sided. I am interested in the power of Talking Mats to help create a genuine dialogue when these friends are reminiscing, in other words, to help me to be not just a listener but to enter the dialogue. Having a record of the conversation will help us take the discussion further when we return to it.

As ever, the time spent with Talking Mats colleagues was refreshing, stimulating and I can’t wait to go home and try out some new ideas!’

Jenni Barr, Educational Psychologist

What’s the accredited training like?

Liv's mat

Accredited training in Stirling
In the end of October, I pushed my bad flying-nerves aside and travelled from Stockholm to Stirling to attend the Accredited Training Course at Talking Mats. It was two intensive days where we, a small group of six people, in a structured way learned about and had the chance to try out different aspects of teaching Talking Mats. It was interesting to hear the other participants’ experiences with Talking Mats. Both Joan and Sally who held the course were encouraging and enthusiastic. Doing all this in English made me a little bit dizzy at the end of the days, but nonetheless I came home with a lot of new perspectives and ideas I will try on my colleagues in my first own training session next year. Please have a look at my Evaluation Mat!
Liv Thalén
Speech and Language Therapist
The Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm

Why are Talking Mats and CIRCA powerful communication systems?


By Dr Norman Alm, School of Computing, University of Dundee.


Have been thinking for some years – and having dialogues with Joan Murphy – about this : would it be possible to come up with a new type of AAC where both the non-speaking person and their communication partner(s) were equally in joint control of some sort of system? Imagine a touch screen which also could be controlled by switch input. A non-speaking person and their communication partner are both engaged with the screen and both equally making use of it to do … what ?
Don’t know at the moment, but there are several suggestions for ways to explore and develop this idea further. Talking Mats is one.

Ian 3

‘Talking Mats supports conversation’

The purpose is to help the person with communication difficulties express their opinions, with the other participant being a facilitator. But notice what is not happening – a face-to-face interview. Instead both participants look away from each other and focus on the mutual task, manipulating the symbols on the mat to produce the communication. Much less stressful – and much more enjoyable and productive. Another example is the CIRCA system, which supports what is usually problematic communication between a person with dementia and a carer or relative. The support takes the form of touchscreen access to an engaging multimedia display of reminiscence material drawn from public archives. Again a potentially stressful and unproductive face-to-face encounter is converted into an enjoyable mutual activity that flows effortlessly. The design of each of these systems taps into something powerfully motivating. Talking Mats lets the person describe their emotional reactions to a subject, as manifested by the scale which organises the elements on display into a snapshot of that person’s individual feelings. CIRCA makes use of the one faculty still operative even in quite advanced dementia – the ability to recall long-term memories and enjoy sharing them.
Both these systems offer a structured communication encounter in which the structure has the effect of not restricting, but freeing up the communication. Crucially ( I would argue) both free the participants from the direct responsibility of keeping the interaction going and let them share that responsibility with a third agent.


How Talking Mats has helped me make decisions and supported me to share my views

Giving My Speech at the Talking Mats launch

Speech presented at the launch of new Talking Mats Resources

Hello everyone, my name is Greig McMurchie and I would like to take the opportunity to welcome you all here today. If I look familiar it may be because you recognised me from the original talking mat video, where I had a cameo appearance with the lovely Joan murphy of course that was over ten years ago, and back then I was  much younger and better looking. Joan however is still as lovely as the day I met her.

As you can see, I have been involve in talking mats for many years now, ever since Joan asked me to help her trial a new communication system, that she and her colleague Lois had been developing. My initial thoughts were wow, this sounds really complicated and I was a little bit scared.  But I had known Joan since I was little and I really wanted to see what this new Communication system was all about.

When Joan came to visit me at that Dundas day center, all those years ago, all my fear quickly disappeared, it was really easy. I was able to have my say, and because it was visual I could change my mind also.  I began using talking mats to share my views, opinions and wishes, and before long this system was helping me to make life Changing decisions, such as what I wanted to do with my life once I had finished my college course. In fact you could argue that I am where I am today because of talking mats. And I like to say I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anyway, that was away back then, and times have move on. About four weeks ago Joan and Lois came to Upper Sprinlands to visit me, and of course show me their wonderful bran new talking mats app. My initial thoughts were this sound fantastic, and when they arrived we had a wee chart and they explained what they had been doing.

I don’t know about everyone else, but when I was a kid a tablet was something you took if you were not feeling too well, an android was a character from a computer game and an apple was something you gave to your teacher to butter them up if you forgot to do your homework. But today all this modern technology is making it easy for everyone to engage creating doorways to all kinds of wonderful stuff. And boy can I say this new talking mats app is all kinds of wonderful.

So after we chatted I got to have a wee play with the new app, I couldn’t believe how easy it was, you were able to just move the pictures around and place them were you want them on the screen.  The New picture sets are fantastic, they are bright colourful and easy to understand.  I also like the way you can enlarge the picture to make it easier to see. And of course the fact that it come already to use. You can even take a photograph and send it to yourself by email. No more printing, cutting out and Velcroing, no more hunting for the camera only to realize the batteries are flat and you can’t use it anyway.  Everything is just nicely packaged. And the fact that it can be used not only on an Ipad but also on a computer makes it even more accessible.

Dare I say I personally felt the new App for me was even easier than the old system; it is quicker, fun and very cool?  Now I just need to persuade Upper springland to Purchase a copy or twelve.


Thank you talking Mats






(Speech at the Launch of the New Talking Mats Resources )