Category Archives: App

Talking Mats App – Version 2

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We are delighted to announce the release of Version 2 of the Talking Mats App  

This app has a number of great new features which many of you have been asking for.
There are two new resources – Eating and Drinking – which has  3 main topic sets - Meals, Impact on Health and Things that might help.

journeyThe second new resource is Social Care which includes the topics Activities, Where you live and You.

looking_after_myself_TOPIC
There is an amazing new feature which many people have been asking for. Version 2 allows you to add your own images from your camera roll. This means that you can add you own personalised pictures to any of the topics.
Watch out for next week’s blog when Lois will tell you about her holiday using this new feature!

You can now also reset your password, use the Back button to navigate through the app, delete individual sessions and use the updated report page.

If you have already purchased the gold version of the Talking Mats app you will get all these new features for free.

If you wish to purchase the app please click here or for further information call our office 01786 479511

AAC, group work and Occupational Therapists

AAC  for all

We’re delighted that Andrea Powell, an Occupational therapist in Edinburgh has written a Blog for us about her experiences of being involved in group work with people who use AAC.

As a student occupational therapist, I worked part time as a support worker with an amazing lady Jennifer, (Jennifer is a pseudonym) Jennifer just happened to use an iPad to communicate. At this time I was about to commence my final year studies and was required to research and write a dissertation on a subject of interest. The lightning bolt of inspiration came when I, with Jennifer attended a weekly AAC user support group which was run and organised by a group of SLT’s.

The group was a wonderful resource that truly benefited the people who used it. I witnessed how much Jennifer valued spending time chatting with friends who also used an AAC device and who understood the unwritten rules of engagement. Such as patience while I set up my speech, don’t look at my screen while decide what I want to say etc. Her confidence in using different types of conversation grew while attending the group. It encouraged her to add to her already wide and variety vocabulary. As her support worker I also valued the opportunity to gain access to training on how to use her AAC and how I could provide better support to her.

I began reading around AAC and how people integrate of devices into their lives.  I was however shocked to find that the wonderful group Jennifer attended was a rare occurrence for many users. The more I read, the more I realised that many users struggled to continue using an AAC device due to lack of support, access to trained professionals and most did not have wonderful resources like user support groups.

As an OT I was interested to explore the role in which I would play within AAC provision and found that as an OT I would be mainly providing support and advice on positioning, accessing devices and ergonomic type support.

However I felt that as an OT we have many more skills that didn’t appear to be to be getting utilised, within in my dissertation proposal I postulated that OT’s could expand their role within AAC to i) collaborating on assessments for AAC; ii) training on devices once they have been issued to users; and, iii) running and facilitating groups for AAC users and communications partners in the community.

OT’s are highly trained specialists skilled at understanding what is achievable and realistic for an individual. Occupational therapists assess individuals holistically in order to establish realistic and manageable goals which can be graded and adapted to suit the individual. Through the utilisation of appropriate grading of an occupation, a user can experience success and therefore less failure and frustration, ensuring the challenge is set at the appropriate level for the individual concerned (Park 2009).

Running and facilitating groups as a therapeutic tool is something that occupational therapists have been doing since the earliest days of the profession and groups are now utilised in many areas of practice (Howe and Schwartzberg 2001). By continuing this tradition, occupational therapists are well placed to take the lead in running and facilitating groups for AAC users, integrating social and community activities into the groups, for example, meeting in local shops to provide real life experience of interactions and, importantly, promoting the use of AAC to the general public. There are similar projects being attempted in Motherwell to increase the awareness of Dementia and make local businesses “Dementia friendly” (Shafii and Crockett 2013). Providing groups for AAC users not only enables them to learn how to use their devices, but also provides a support network of other users and communication partners.

I feel that if the skills of an OT were utilised in more than ergonomics then more positive outcomes could be seen for the user of AAC. I believe that if there were more OT’s taking on additional roles within AAC provision it could help reduce the pressure for SLT’s and the waiting lists to see SLT’s. It would also enable more users to be assessed to use AAC.

Using Talking Mats with eye gaze


Many thanks to Helen Paterson, one of our accredited trainers for this fascinating blog.

Now that Talking Mats is accessible in a digital format, the Talking Mats team are often asked ‘Can it be used on an eye gaze device?’ . Of course, for those who use eye pointing reliably, they can use a standard Talking Mat, but there are those individuals with whom we work with who may want to use their eye gaze device to use a Talking Mat, and who find the digital format more accessible. We would suggest that this is only done with a client who is already familiar with eye gaze , due to the extra effort required both to use eye gaze and to make decisions when using a mat. There are many other access methods with which you could use and access Talking Mats Pro, such as a head mouse, chin joystick or touch screen, but for this blog we will focus upon eye gaze. Here’s how we made it possible, and I am sure there may be other ways which we would love to hear about!

  1. To use Talking Mats Pro directly using eye gaze the person really needs to be calibrated on a device, and they require a level of calibration that is good enough that they are able to access a mouse emulator or Gaze selection on Tobii.
  2. You must ensure that the mouse emulation or Gaze selection features are set up and the person understands what the features are and what they mean e.g: left click, drag and double click.
  3. Open up Talking Mats pro on your account.
  4. You will need to select the topic, topscales and symbols for your client, as this will make it easier with less work for your client, although this is something you would do anyway as the person facilitating the mat.
  5. Now go through the question and the topscales as you usually would and explain them to your client.
  6. Select the first symbol and place it on the mat where they can see it.

This is where the 2 systems differ:

Mouse emulation: mouse emulation In mouse emulation mode, the user is emulating and controlling a mouse pointer on the screen. This function is available with software such as: Tobii Gaze Interaction in Mouse Emulation Mode (shown above), Alea Intelligaze, Eye Tribe with Dwell Clicker, Tellus 4 with TM4 eye tech, or the Windows App within the Sensory Software’s The Grid 2 FastTalker2 user.

  1. Client first needs to open the mouse function menu by fixing his or her gaze on the small grey icon which will open the mouse menu.
  2. Client then fixates gaze to select the drag function (shown above)
  3. Then the client will select the symbol s/he wants to move by fixating on it.
  4. Once fixated, they symbol will ‘drag’ around the screen with the clients gaze. 5
  5. They will then fixate on a point to ‘drop’ it.

See Video

Gaze selection (Tobii):

gaze selection With Gaze selection (Tobii only) the user can control a Windows desktop with a two step selection method. The first step involves selecting the desired task from the taskbar on the right of the screen. The person looks at it until it changes to white. The person then looks at the part of the screen where they want the task to take place.

  1. The client clicks selects drag function at the top of the Menu
  2. They then look at the symbol 3
  3. They then look where they wish to place the symbol.

This does require some more thinking on the side of the client as they need to look to where they want it to go and they are not just dragging it as they are in mouse emulation mode.

See video

For individuals who do not have a calibration good enough to use mouse emulation or gaze selection, it is a little more complex. A Talking Mat could be emulated from software such as The Grid 2 or Communicator, but it would not involve the software from Talking Mats Pro or dragging of symbols and moving them to where the person wants them to go.

Talking Mats…….Is it suitable for Parents?


Many thanks to Lynne Baxter who has answered the question: Is Talking Mats suitable for parents to use?

I have been asked to write an account of my experience, as a parent, of completing the on-line course available for Taking Mats. I completed this course in April this year 2014 and I am very proud of my achievement. First some background information. I am nobody special just a parent of a child who has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition. My son is in a mainstream setting and has limited access to support and resources due to financial restrictions. Through time I realised that I was his main resource for support and really needed to improve my knowledge and understanding of this “hidden disability”. I had already heard about the wonderful resource that is Talking Mats, the tool that help makes communication easier for many. I started to do my research and find out more about it. I am not a professional who has been trained on the Autism Spectrum, my knowledge is only from my experience of having a child on the spectrum. I was unsure if I would be able to do this. After much consideration I took the decision to give it a try! I am so glad I did. While insuring that the product would be of benefit to my family, I nervously contacted the wonderful supportive team at Talking Mats and asked them what they thought. They were very encouraging and I felt empowered to try the training course! They assured me that they would help me as much as they could. This was very reassuring to know and gave me the reinforcement I was looking for.

Every week I was given access to each module which I completed to the best of my ability. Anxiously waiting for the result and the feedback from the team to see if I was able to attempt the next module was normal for a Wednesday while doing this course. To my great relief the feedback was positive and before I knew it I was nearing the last assessment and the completion of the course. The last assessment involved me and my son using the resource Talking Mats, this had to be filmed and sent for grading! Once again I had to push myself out of my comfort zone! It will be worth it for the benefit the training would give to my family. A friend came and videoed the situation and it was sent off for feedback and grading.

I passed! The feedback was amazing and now I can use the resource that will help my son explain his thoughts and feelings in a concrete way. The hardest thing for me was not to influence the results, I had to make sure it was his views and not mine! I have now registered to use the app and I am continually surprised by the evidence. I am delighted with the continued support from the team and I am very grateful to them for the resource. My son finds it hard to express his emotions, thoughts and feelings. This gives me hard evidence of his opinions and is great to have to reference too throughout the years!

Having to use open questions has helped my son communicate more than he knows! A very good result!

For information about the online training click here 

How can you help someone express how they feel about their communication using the health and well-being resource?

Communication

In the Health and Well-being resource, we have provided four sets of symbols to help people consider how they feel about their communication. Because communication is  complex and often abstract, it can be particularly difficult for people to express their views about it, especially if they have existing communication difficulties. To make this easier, we have divided communication into four topics:

  • Expression
  • Understanding
  • Learning and thinking
  • Relationships.

In the following example, I show how each topic can be used to build up a picture of how someone feels about different aspects of their communication. I worked with Kate, a 42 year old woman who had a stroke which left her with severe expressive and receptive aphasia. She was able to communicate through vocalisations and gestures. She could sometimes draw or write down words and needed to point to ‘yes/no’ in order to reliably answer closed questions. Following discharge from hospital, I used Talking Mats with Kate to find out how she felt about her communication. I started with the ‘communication – expression’ topic and found that she felt that she was having lots of difficulties making herself understood, particularly on the phone and in group situations:

Kate expression

I then explored how Kate felt about understanding what people were saying to her. Kate was able to tell me that she found it easier to understand people on a one to one basis rather than in a group setting. She indicated that it really helped her if people used gestures or wrote things down. Her main difficulty was understanding people on the phone, and in fact she had stopped answering the phone altogether (see mat below).

Kate understanding

We went on to do a mat about Kate’s learning and thinking. In this set, there are symbols which cover higher level language activities such as reading, problem solving and organisation. When we talked about these areas, Kate was able to tell me about the things she was finding most problematic, but could also identify some things that she felt she could still manage (such as calculations and reading newspapers).

Kate learning and thinking

I then asked Kate how she felt about communicating with different people in her life. This mat shows that Kate found talking to her husband and her parents (who lived quite far away) particularly difficult.

Kate relationships

As a result of doing these mats, we were able to target the things that mattered most to Kate in relation to her communication, and came up with the following actions:
1. Kate felt that her husband needed support and information, so we spent time working with him, showing him the best ways to support Kate’s communication.
2. Because Kate’s parents lived quite far away, she could only contact them using the phone, which was very difficult. We worked on getting Skype set up so that Kate could communicate with her family using all the modes available to her.
By splitting communication into different sub mats, Kate was able to think about different aspects of her communication and identify the things that she found most challenging. Together we began to work out some ways to help her overcome her difficulties.
Use the communication symbols to find out what people want to work on and use a collaborative approach to establish some goals to work on in therapy. I used the original Talking Mats when I explored  Kate’s communication with her, but you could do the same with Digital Talking Mats. Find out more about it here.