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Our thanks for this blog go to Deborah Little, Speech and Language Therapist; Clinical Lead for AAC & Total Communication (Children and Young People) NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

“Can we do a Talking Mat today Deborah?  This is the question I am asked as soon as I enter the Learning Centre in one of our local schools by an enthusiastic 8 year old who has been exploring what completing a Talking Mat (TM) is all about this term.  While we are in the early stage of this school’s TMs journey, the impact of embedding the approach into the fabric of how Children and Young People (CYP) are supported to communicate in school is already proving transformative.

Article 12 of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) guarantees children the right to express their views and opinions freely in all matters affecting them.  The responsibility of ensuring children experience this right is also underlined in NICE guidelines (2022) that state: “Education, health and social care practitioners should always: put the life goals and ambitions and preferences of the disabled child or young person with severe complex needs at the centre of planning and decision making.”

Working with my teaching colleagues within one Additional Support Needs (ASN) setting this year, we reflected on how effectively the CYP were able to give their views and how consistently these views were acted upon in meaningful ways.  We felt that this was an area we really wanted to improve upon and specifically we wanted to explore the following key questions in our minds:

  • How can we support CYP’s understanding of their right to give their views and opinions?  We reflected that for some CYP, their experience of being able to do this was very limited and that their understanding of using a TM was not yet at a stage where they were able to represent their views.  We therefore wanted to prioritise finding out what helped these CYP to use TMs with understanding.
  • How can we support CYP to know that they can tell us they aren’t happy about something?  We reflected that during ‘Emotions Works’ discussion times many of the CYP routinely shared that they felt ‘happy.’  It was rare for the CYP to talk about unhappy feelings.  We felt worried that the CYP often gave responses that they felt would be ‘right’ or pleasing to adults.
  • How can we ensure we create a culture of prioritising time and space for CYP to share their views, opinions and ideas?  We thought about opportunities throughout the school week that would create space and motivation for the CYP to engage with TMs.  We wanted to achieve a feeling of TMs being integral to the everyday, as opposed to a sporadic ‘add on.’

To answer these questions, we agreed on the following key change ideas to implement and evaluate:

Developing understanding of the Talking Mats process linked with familiar learning opportunities.

Dynamic Assessment is an approach familiar to those working with CYP who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).  Adapting activities dynamically, being responsive to CYP’s progress, allows progressive skill enablement.  Together with teaching colleagues, we applied this thinking to helping the children use TMs with understanding.  If we had tried having a conversation using TM only a couple of times, our evaluation could have been that TMs wasn’t yet a tool we could use because for example, the CYP were putting all their symbols into the ‘I’m happy with this’ column only.  Instead, we thought “OK, that’s where the CYP are now, let’s give them opportunities to practise engaging with this new tool and time to develop using the approach with understanding.”  Put another way, we prioritised another key concept within the field of AAC: we Presumed Competence.  We believed that the CYP had the ability to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas if we introduced TMs gradually, linking with the activities above, that were tangible and familiar to the thinkers.

Consciously modelling that is OK to have negative feelings and opinions.

When a CYP is learning what might be possible in terms of communicating with AAC, best practise is for supporting adults to model the AAC.  This means, adults ‘use AAC to teach AAC.’  We show CYP that we highly value the AAC and want to use it too.  We use it in real situations, modelling vocabulary to help CYP understand the symbolic vocabulary and how they can begin to use it too.  When helping the CYP understand how TMs could help them express a wider range of emotions, we tried out using this approach. Now and again, supporting adults would share with the CYP how they were feeling about things using TMs and would include negative feelings. 

One CYP had a memorable response to my sharing that I was feeling “not happy” with my cat.  The CYP’s eyes widened and he became instantly animated, using his AAC to ask “cat..bad..what?”  I was able to explain that my cat had been scratching my carpets and I was feeling upset about this.  The CYP then used his AAC to say “cat…dig!”  He pointed at the ‘not happy’ symbol in the Talking Mats top scale, jointly sharing his attention to this symbol and understanding of what this meant with me.  The next week, we used TMs to ask this young person about a social group he had attended.  For the first time, we noticed him ‘swithering’ across his top scale while making his choices.  Also for the first time, I was confident that he shared his authentic feelings with me.  I reflected on the power of modelling and normalising feelings that are ‘not happy.’

So, where are we now?  The key themes from our findings after a year of using TMs as described above are:

In summary, using TMs in this setting has all supporting practitioners in agreement that it is not only important to listen to CYP when we know they might be having a tough time; we need to create space to listen all of the time, week to week, with authenticity and without agenda.  The principles regularly used within AAC practice of: modelling, presuming competence and dynamic assessment have been effective in supporting more children to be able to experience their UNCRC Article 12 Right, more of the time and with increased understanding and confidence.

References

  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – UNICEF UK
  • NICE Guidelines [NG213] (2022) Disabled Children and Young People up to age 25 with severe complex needs: integrated service delivery and organisation across health, social care and education.
  • Emotion Works www.emotionsworks.org.uk
  • Daneshfar, S and Moharami, M (2018) Dynamic Assessment in Vygotsky’s Socioculturaly Theory: Origins and Main Concepts.  Journal of Language Teaching and Research 9(3):600
  • Donnellan, A (1984) The Criterion of the Least Dangerous Assumption.  Behavioural Disorders, 9 (2), 141-150
  • Sennott, Light and McNaughton (2016) AAC Modelling Intervention Research Review.  Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilties 41 (2)

Communication is a fundamental human right, yet many individuals with communication difficulties face daily challenges in expressing their thoughts, needs and feelings.  Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a powerful tool that bridges this communication gap, and Talking Mats is one innovative approach that has proven highly effective in enhancing the lives of those who use AAC.

However, in the 25 years that Talking Mats has been developing resources we have never created one that specifically addresses the needs of AAC users.

 Until now!

The new resource, Supporting Communication with AAC and the online advanced training module, AAC will be launched at this year’s Communication Matters Conference 9th-11th September.

The idea

Ace Centre first contacted us in 2018 with the idea of developing a specific assessment resource that would allow the person considering using AAC to express their views about it; were they ready to use AAC, did it fit with their life and communication needs and how much support would be required? This could then inform decisions around referrals onto specialist AAC services.

Development

As with all Talking Mats resources, this one was piloted and discussed and changed until the final version was reached.  Thank you to all the practitioners and clients who gave their time and energy in that process. Thank you also to the Scottish Centre of Technology for the Communication Impaired who also collaborated on the resource and the module.

Outcome

 The outcome is a resource that can contribute to both assessments and reviews, and an Advanced online training module, both of which aim to put the AAC user at the heart of decision making about their communication.

Here is a brief outline of the resource and the module. 

Supporting Communication with AAC (card and digital resource)

Topics

 Your Communication

This topic considers the ‘How’, ‘Who’ and ‘Where’ of interactions and helps develop an understanding of the Thinkers communication needs.  It can be completed when you are getting to know the Thinker.

Joining in conversations

These topics are designed to help a Thinker explore how they feel about their AAC resource when it comes to joining in conversations and reflect the fact that an individual often uses a combination of communication modes to be effective. The three topic cards are: Verbal conversation, Paper support and Electronic Support.

How your AAC works

This topics explores different ways of accessing the  AAC device as well as the different features it has, incluing functions, appearance, sound, and access.

If you are trained in Talking Mats to Foundation level you can buy the resource from our website

AAC Advanced module

To access this course you must have already completed the Foundation Course.

The objective of this course is to ensure that AAC users are at the heart of decision making and that necessary adaptations are in place to support those conversations

The course is split into three different sections:

The Resource

Aim – to recognise the different topics and who they might be suitable for

Access

Aim – to recognise different positions, places and methods for a Thinker to access a Talking Mat

Communication Dynamics

Aim – to recognise the dynamics in a conversation, and appraise the process of using additional people during a Talking Mat

To successfully complete the course participants must pass the quiz and contribute to the forum telling us about their experience.

Courses will run from the 1st of every month starting in November.

Talking Mats are delighted to share that we have been awarded funding to create a brand-new sensory resource for children and young people who have Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and sensory integration/processing difficulties. The funding to create this resource has been awarded by the Communication Trust from the Communication Consortium Grants Programme – funded by The Rayners Special Educational Trust.  

The Communication Trust Consortium, a coalition of over 35 not-for-profit organisations, is hosted by ICAN. They harness collective expertise to support the workforce and commissioners to support all children and young people’s speech, language, and communication skills across the UK. 

This exciting year-long project will be led by Laura Holmes, our Lead Associate for Children and Young People. Laura has been part of the Talking Mats Team since 2016 and has over 20 years’ experience of working as a Speech and Language Therapist with children and young people, across a wide variety of settings in both NHS and independent sectors.  

Laura Holmes: Lead Associate for Children and Young People

New Sensory Resource 

This project will develop, pilot and launch a Talking Mats visual communication resource to tune into a child’s view of their sensory needs. It will enable children and young people who have speech, language, and communication needs (SLCN) and sensory difficulties to have a voice in their therapy assessment, planning and intervention.   

“Sensory integration” and “sensory processing” refer to the processes in the brain that allow us to take the signals from our senses, make sense of those signals and respond appropriately.  Children and young people with sensory processing/integration difficulties often have speech, language and communication difficulties, which may be linked to a diagnosis of autism (Green et al 2016); developmental language disorder (Simpson et al 2020); hearing impairment (Alkhamra et al 2020); or a history of trauma (Fraser et al 2017).   

This work is important as sensory assessments can typically involve a mixture of formal and informal questionnaires and checklists which are carried out with Parents/Carers, Education Staff, and may also involve observations of the child in their environment. The issue is that Child Voice is not always routinely, or effectively, included in these assessments, or in subsequent planning and intervention – however the Royal College of Occupational Therapists recommends that ‘person-centred goals/outcomes must be established prior to intervention’ (RCOT, Informed View: Sensory Integration and Sensory-Based Assessments 2021). This also links with the current SEND system in England and GIRFEC in Scotland, both of which also emphasise the importance of child voice throughout assessment, planning and intervention processes. 

We plan to work with experienced Talking Mats OT and SLT practitioners working with children and young people who have SLCN and sensory needs, to co-create this resource.  

Get Involved 

If you, or someone you know, works with children who have a diagnosis of SLCN and sensory needs, and is an experienced Talking Mats practitioner, please share the news about this project. 

If this applies to the work that you do, and you would be interested in taking part in this project, please follow this link to express your interest: Communication Trust Project.   
Expressions of Interest should be submitted by Friday 23/09/22. 

Stay Connected 

For more information about Talking Mats, please visit our website www.talkingmats.com or follow us on social media to keep up to date with all our news! 

Our new digital platform with enhanced features

Talking mats have been researched and developed over a period of more than 20 years. Initially Talking Mats developed as a paper based communication framework but there was always much interest in having it as a digital resource so our first digital Talking Mats platform was released in 2012.  

In the years since its release the Talking Mats digital platform has helped thousands of people who otherwise would find it challenging to express how they feel, but with the discontinuation of Flash player the opportunity to create a new web-app presented itself. We are delighted to say that it is here! Combining it with the new website means that we are able to include many of the features that our customers have wanted, including the ability to:

  • Add and save photos
  • Personalise conversations by adding symbols from other sets
  • Create and save your own personalised mats ( provided you are foundation trained )
  • Think through and order your Talking Mats conversation
  • Change and select an appropriate Top Scale
  • File your thinker’s mat in an easy to retrieve manner
  • Easily carry out remote Talking Mats conversations

Our Digital Support Officer, Mark, is here to take you through the headlines of the new app, as well as some useful information for existing users.

In a nutshell

The new Digital Talking Mats (DTM) is a subscription-based web app which is access via our new look website www.talkingmats.com. It contains all the Talking Mats resources currently available to purchase to ensure that it can be used in as many different contexts to help as many different people as possible.

The subscriptions

We wanted to ensure that there was a DTM subscription for everyone. To that end, there are three different levels of individual subscription (starter, enhanced, complete) which can be renewed on a monthly or annual basis. There is also a licence specifically for organisations which offers the chance to have multiple users tied to an organisation, all at ‘complete’ level.

Once you have signed up for a subscription, you can easily see the details in the ‘subscriptions’ section of your account.

Existing Digital Talking Mats customers

If you had access to version 1 of the digital Talking Mats please keep an eye on your inbox as you will be getting an email giving you access to the new version . If you do not receive such an email please get In touch with us.

App Features and How to Use Them

Once you have subscribed and accessed the app, there is immediately a helpful video which tells you all you need to know about how to use the app. This includes setting up a new thinker, creating a new Talking Mat with the symbols of your choice, and how to view snapshots of previous sessions you have carried out.

Technical Tips

Browsers

All browsers are equal, but some are more equal than others. Our app is optimised for Google Chrome, but will also work on Firefox and Microsoft Edge. Internet explorer is not supported. It is a good idea to make sure your browser is as up to date as possible for the best user experience. Mor detailed information on browser compatibility is available here

Offline Functionality

We recognise that internet is not always available in homes, schools or many other places, and so it is very important to us that the app works offline. Unfortunately due to the fact it is till relatively fresh, the app will not work offline yet, but rest assured this feature is in the pipeline. One option in the meantime is to use a device that can hotspot (most smartphones will have this feature) and carry out a Talking Mat online.

App Navigation

When you are navigating from page to page in the app, it is actually creating overlays on a single web page. This means that when you are in the app, if you press the ‘back’ button on your browser, it will take you out of the app completely.

If you have any questions about the Digital Talking Mats platform or you are interested in learning more, you can get I touch with Mark at mark@talkingmats.com.

On Wednesday November 10th we held a colloquium with the University of Edinburgh and NHS fife to report on the findings of the research that was funded with the Burdett foundation . The easy-read version of this report can be found here.

48 people attended the online event on Wednesday and engaged in some very thoughtful discussion and reflection on communication in forensic settings. There was much to think about including whether ethos and values align with self-determination , how to get communication taken seriously by staff who are often under huge pressure. Consideration of  where power lies in an organisation and an acknowledgment that  in order to share power staff themselves need to feel they have power.

The recognition that in the promotion of shared decision making, you increase the risk of people taking what others may see as unwise decisions. The need to support the capacity of people to be involved in decision making early on and in the smaller decisions of life and not leaving including them to a crisis.

The importance of further research in his area and that small clinically driven research projects have an important role to play in addition to ones funded by bigger grants. There is much to digest and we are hoping to keep the conversation going.

If you would like to see for yourself the research presented and the topics discussed at the colloquium you can watch the recording of the Zoom session here.

If you want to attend foundation Talking Mats training please find out more here. if you have completed your foundation training please consider attending the Keeping Safe advanced online module which includes the Keeping Safe resource . If you have the Keeping Safe resource please download the new Being Included bolt on to use with it.

During May we are hosting 3 one hour webinars which will demonstrate the new digital Talking Mats that is currently being developed for us by our technical partners MTC.  

The webinar will focus on demonstrating its new features including: 

  • technical specification for use
  • the range of symbols sets availableincluding Keeping SafeThinking Ahead, Health and Housing and the Leisure subsets of Sports and Out and About  
  • how to add your own photos 
  • how to make sub mats ,
  • how to useit to support effective remote  conversations  
  • how to file restore and retrieve individual mats. 

The migration from our current system to this will be explained as well as how to purchase and use if you are a new user. 

Please note this is not a Talking Mats training. 

Choose a webinar that suits your time zone and work pattern and book a place. All times are GMT 

All webinars are free and we would love to see you to show you  he new digital Talking Mats  

I stole the lyrics and altered them slightly, but this is the song line that has kept popping into my head over the past few weeks as we find ourselves hurtling through the different phases of lockdown easing. The rules and recommendations that have guided our lives for the past 3 months or so are changing rapidly and change can be difficult.  Communicating how we feel about change and life in general can be difficult.

We have seen creative uses of our resources and have really enjoyed learning how they have helped young people and adults express how they coped throughout lockdown and beyond.  Kirsten Lamb’s guest blog about Returning to School After Lockdown is just one example of how the TM framework was invaluable in gaining the opinions of young people as they adapted to ongoing changes over which they had little or no control.
https://www.talkingmats.com/returning-to-school-after-lockdown/

Another Talking Mats practitioner recently tweeted this mat that she did with a college student, showing how Talking Mats helped structure thinking about how life was going.

college student TM

We felt a single resource was needed to help kick start a conversation around Life (but not as we know it; I am sure that’s a song too) looking at the following themes:

  • Family / Friends / Bubbles / Social Distancing
  • Health
  • Mood / Emotion
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Work
  • School / College
  • Activities
  • Shopping
  • Routine

Lockdown Set

As with every Talking Mat you can change the top scale to be more or less concrete, you can use blanks to add in things that we haven’t included, you can leave things out that aren’t relevant.  Download your free printable pdf here: LOCKDOWN SET

We look forward to hearing stories from our Talking Mats Community on how you helped others express themselves (definitely another song!)

Since the start of the restrictions placed on us by Covid-19 there have been lots of questions to us about how you can use Talking Mats remotely. We have all been forced to learn quickly what we can and cannot do in a virtual world when we need to be physically distanced from each other.

We have tried various ways to do Talking Mats virtually, but the easiest way we have found is to log into your digital Talking Mats through our website and use the Talking Mat in this mode. Then open your virtual meeting app, e.g. Microsoft Teams or Zoom, and share your screen. For both you can share the control of your screen so your thinker can move the options as you talk them through using the standard Talking Mats principles.

For Microsoft Teams see https://support.office.com/en-gb/article/share-content-in-a-meeting-in-teams-fcc2bf59-aecd-4481-8f99-ce55dd836ce8

For Zoom see https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362673-Request-or-Give-Remote-Control

Sometimes people run into problems with the Talking Mats  digital log in because they get a message about Adobe Flash. If you get that, our advice would be to try a different browser or if you are using Chrome do the following:

  • Click on the 3 little dots at the top-right of chrome
  • Click on “settings”
  • “Privacy and security”
  • “Site settings”
  • “Flash”
  • Change from “Blocked” to “Ask first”

EXTENDED OFFER to increase digital access during the Covid-19 Emergency

We realise that many of you don’t have the digital Talking Mats so we are making it available for a charge of £30.00 including VAT  from now until the END OF 2020. Fill in this form DISCOUNTED DIGITAL TALKING MATS REQUEST FORMremote DTM(We hope you will understand that we will not release your digital logon until payment is received.) We always recommend the Talking Mats foundation training to get the full benefit from this communication framework so watch out for our online training offer which will be released next week.

On a personal level we have been testing remote use of Digital Talking Mats amongst the Talking Mats team. We used the coping set from our Health and Wellbeing resource and it has helped our own reflections on how we are feeling about the current restrictions on our lives and the impact it is having on us.

We are aware it is still early days and we do not have a lot of experience of using the digital Talking Mats remotely with people with communication difficulties.  It would be good to have a forum for sharing those experiences. We held a virtual meeting on Thursday 23rd April at 10.00 a.m. to do that here is the report of that meeting including a link to a video demonstrating how to set up your digital Talking Mat 20200429 post zoom meeting notes_ no link

 

Many thanks to our Talking Mats Founder, Dr Joan Murphy, for this latest blog talking about the training course she recently delivered at the Cyprus University of Technology.

Cyprus is a beautiful Mediterranean island with a population of approximately 1 million.

I was invited by Dr Eliada Pampoulou to run a 2-day course on Talking Mats for 12 Speech and Language Therapists, some of whom are masters students and some, lecturing staff at the Cyprus University of Technology. The Cyprus University of Technology founded the first Department of Rehabilitation Sciences  in Cyprus and the Department offers the first public recognised university bachelor degree in Speech Language Therapy / Speech Language Pathology in the Greek language (https://www.cut.ac.cy/faculties/hsc/reh/).

Day 1 was a Talking Mats foundation training course and Day 2 focused on discussion around capacity, research and clinical applications. This model worked very well as the participants were able to think about and discuss how to apply the training immediately.

Cyprus 1

Some of the immediate plans of the participants were both clinical and research oriented and are outlined below:

  • To administer the Greek Stroke and Aphasia Quality of Life Scale (SAQOL-39) with healthy people over  50 both with the text version and an adapted Talking Mats version quality and to examine which they prefer.
  •  To use Talking Mats both with people with people with aphasia and their carers in order to share their understanding about  the communication skills and needs of people with aphasia.
  •  To use Talking Mats as a tool to identify the factors that are related to AAC system acceptance or abandonment by focusing directly to the views of people with complex communication needs
  • To use Talking Mats as a goal setting tool for both paediatric and adult population
  • To use Talking Mats to gets clients feedback about therapy services
  • To use Talking Mats for student appraisals regarding their clinical training

Cyprus 2

 

Dr Eliada Pampoulou has created the first Talking Mats centre in  Cyprus which aims to gather all people who received training every few months to share their experiences and support each other to embed Talking Mats in practice and research.

We hope that Eliada will come to Stirling next year to gain her Talking Mats licence to enable her to train others and extend the reach of Talking Mats even further.

We regularly run our Licensed Trainer 2-day courses at our base in Stirling – if you have attended Talking Mats Foundation Training and would like to train other people find out more here:

https://www.talkingmats.com/training/train-the-trainers-accredited-training/

 

 

 

 

Recently, Associated Prof. Ida Marie Mundt from Denmark completed our Talking Mats licensed trainer course. She has been looking at the theories which underpin Talking Mats and is planning to publish her work. One of the areas she speaks about is Identity.

In this blog, our Talking Mats Associate Rhona Matthews explores the area of Identity:

How do I know who I am? This is learned from actions, behaviour and language firstly with parents and family, then with friends.

For people who have difficulty interacting, this becomes much more difficult. There is a danger that others construct their identity.

A participant on our online training wrote about her experience of doing a Talking Mat for the first time with a girl who uses augmentative communication. She has a severe difficulty expressing her ideas and thoughts.

The topic was leisure activities and the top scale was things I like to do/ don’t like to do. She did this quickly and with no great surprises. The listener felt she didn’t get particularly useful information.

So she repeated the topic but with a different top scale. Things I am good at/Things I’m not good at.

Not surprisingly there was overlap with the earlier attempt. i.e. the things she felt good at, she liked which included horse riding.

Again the listener felt there was more conversation to be had! The thinker coped easily with another change of top scale which was things I want to get better / don’t want to get better at.

This time when the option of horse riding was handed over, the thinker became very animated, nodding in agreement. Not only did she want to improve her horse riding skills but wanted to learn about looking after horses. Her family had no idea that actually she didn’t just like riding but saw herself as a rider. This was part of her identity.

Horse in stable  Rider

As Assoc. Prof. Ida says, Talking Mats offers a possibility to talk about who you are, and get other peoples’ responses.

If you are interested in accessing Talking Mats training we offer a variety of options, including online – check these out here:  https://www.talkingmats.com/training/

 

 

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