It’s that time of year; the days are longer, there are lambs in the fields, the grass is getting cut and people are thinking about new beginnings. Maybe you want to embrace the Spring momentum and get a new skill under your belt, the one you’ve been hearing about from colleagues and reading about on social media; Talking Mats!
Talking Mats has been busy and there are new resources about to be launched but they have the line ‘only available to those trained in Talking Mats’. You attended something a few years ago and you think something was said that had something to do with Talking Mats – does that count? And it’s just pictures how hard can it be?
If this sounds like a conversation you’ve had with yourself read this blog to find out why training in this innovative communication tool is recommended.
I need this training; how can I get it?
You’ve made the decision that you’ll get trained in Talking Mats. What options are there to let you do this? Like all training providers over the last 3 years Talking Mats has had to adapt our training provisions. We have also had to be responsive to what our customers want; there is a much bigger demand for virtual training and online training than we experienced pre 2020. To reflect this we currently offer a variety of ways you can access our Foundation Training. Your choice will depend on the answers to several questions; what sort of learner are you? Can you do this as part of your working day or will it be in your own time? Can you apply for study leave? Following from that; would you like to buy a resource with your training and what is available ? The following diagrams should help simplify things and more in depth information about Foundation Training is on our website, as well as booking information. Being trained in Talking Mats allows you to access all our Advanced Courses and Resources and go on to become a Licenced Trainer.
Thank you to Lisa Chapman,Lead Speech and Language Therapist at Bee U: Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services, Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, who has shared her thoughts about the new sensory resource, sharing what it means to her both professionally and personally. Use these links to read more about the resource and our giveaway offer and to book directly.
A personal and professional journey intertwined.
Communication has always been one of my passions. As a languages teacher I was struck by the speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) of my students and this led me to retrain as a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT). As a parent I saw how my youngest son struggled to communicate his needs and how others struggled to understand him across different environments. He now has a diagnosis of Autism and the experiences we have had together were the start of my journey to explore Sensory Processing.
Sensory Processing, Sensory Integration and Neurodiversity.
Sensory processing is something we all do, it is how we make sense of the world around us using our 8 senses. These websites offer a good general overview of our senses and sensory processing;
- Understanding Sensory Processing and Integration in Children (sensoryintegrationeducation.com)
- Free online sensory processing course for teachers, assistants and parents (griffinot.com)
How this information is then dealt with is referred to as ‘Sensory Integration’; ‘the processing, integration and organisation of sensory information from the body and the environment’ (Schaaf & Mailloux, 2015, p5).
From my growing personal interest came ideas on how sensory processing and integration overlapped with my professional life as an SLT. Hooked, I enrolled on the Sensory Integration Masters course with Ulster and latterly Sheffield Hallam University. I completed my Diploma in 2021 and hope to complete my Masters dissertation later this year.
I love that I have been able to weave my ‘lived’ experiences into my professional development. These experiences continue to overlap. Most recently, this has involved exploring the concept of Neurodiversity, “the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species” (Walker, 2014a). Walker clarifies that the neurodiversity paradigm has three fundamental principles
• Neurodiversity is natural and valuable. We are stronger because of our diversity.
• There is no one ‘right’ way to process information. There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ brain.
• It is important to acknowledge social power dynamics exist in relationship to diversity. Walker (2014b) reminds us to ‘check’ our privilege. This will frequently involve moving out of our comfort zone (Murphy, 2022).
This paradigm has become a core framework for me as both an SLT and a parent. It helps me make sense of variations in communication and sensory experience, to reframe these as differences, not deficits. Understanding my son’s sensory processing has helped me see the world through his eyes allowing new spaces for communication and different conversations. It has helped to reduce the Double Empathy gap (Milton, 2012).
I am equally aware of the impact of environments. Luke Beardon’s (2017) ‘golden equation’, one I quote often, aptly summarises this. “Autism + Environment = Outcome”. Environment here includes identity, the sensory environment, other people and society (Beardon, 2022). The value of having a clearer understanding of your identity and needs is also context dependent, ‘relational’ (Chapman, 2021). You, and others around you, may have great insight into how your body and mind work, but this can only go so far. If no one is listening to you, and environments in their broadest terms are set up to be against you, are ‘low-functioning’ (Patten, 2022, p.8), it is harder to achieve positive and authentic outcomes.
For my autistic son, education settings have sadly often been ‘low-functioning’ environments, placing an immense toll on his sensory processing, communication and ultimately on his emotional well-being. The impact on us as parents has been no less challenging, coping with multiple exclusions from multiple placements. I have equally seen the power of restorative, ‘high-functioning’ environments (Patten, 2022, p.12) that enable him to be the best he can be: environments that offer success, building on his interests and abilities.
The very nature of neurodiversity suggests that we all process sensory information differently. A better understanding of individual sensory experiences gives more information that we can use to create and advocate for ‘high functioning’ environments for everyone, and achieve equity. A crucial first step in neurodiversity affirming practice is respecting an individual’s ‘epistemic authority’ (Chapman & Botha, 2022). To listen without prejudice, and not to enforce that we know best, just because of our position.
With this as my personal and professional ‘framework’ I welcomed the opportunity to trial the Talking Mats resource; Me and My Senses and my final thoughts are around using it with my son.
My personal journey continues; learning and growing
As his mum, and as an informed professional, I felt that I already knew my son’s sensory profile, that I could predict what some of his answers were going to be. He had also already had a full OT-ASI assessment. I came to this as an exercise in ironing out snags, not primarily one of personal learning. I couldn’t have been more surprised by the wealth of new information I came away with, after using the mat with him.
My most important learning was around the significance of smell for my son. Using the mat gave him the space and opportunity to share his insights into smell that I had never really appreciated before. What’s more, this ‘opening up’ extended beyond the time we were using the mat. For the rest of the day he continued to refer to his mat, adding further examples and anecdotes about ‘smell’ as a fundamental sense for his well-being. The mat had provided a safe space for exploration, connection and communication beyond its physical presence. It was a humbling, but also precious experience. It illustrated beyond doubt the importance of listening, but also the immense privilege of opening up and sharing a space that facilitated my son’s voice to be heard.
Until now, few tools have captured the lived ‘sensory’ experiences of children and young people. The Talking Mats ‘Me and My Senses Resource’ meets this need. It places an individual’s voice as central, acknowledging and facilitating autonomy and agency. As such, it is an invaluable tool to anyone wishing to explore sensory processing in a neurodiversity affirming way.
Beardon, L., (2017, July). How can unhappy autistic children be supported to become happy autistic adults? https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/autism/files/2017/07/How-can-unhappy-autistic-children-be-supported.pptx
Beardon, L. [@SheffieldLuke]. (2022, December 11). Autism + environment = outcome; environment could include: autistic self (e.g. understanding of self); others in that environment; the sensory. [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/SheffieldLuke/status/1601894447721111552?s=20&t=HmyywdI4gDSrDJ1BggtF3w
Chapman, R. (2021). Neurodiversity and the Social Ecology of Mental Functions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 16(6), 1360–1372. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620959833
Chapman, R., & Botha, M. (2022). Neurodivergence-informed therapy. Developmental Medicine Child Neurololgy. 00: 1– 8. https://doi.org/10.1111/dmcn.15384
Milton, D. E. M. (2012). On the ontological status of autism: The “double empathy problem”. Disability & Society, 27(6), 883-887. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2012.710008.
Murphy, K. (2022). Neurodiversity in the Early Years. Neurodiversity & ableism reflection tool. https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f903cbab2ae71f26cf02400/638a04bcc5a15c6fda2c02b1_AUDIT_Kerry%20Murphy.pdf
Patten, K. K. (2022). Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture—Finding our strengths: recognizing professional bias and interrogating systems. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76, 7606150010. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2022.076603
Schaaf, R.C. & Mailloux, Z. (2015). Clinician’s guide for implementing Ayre’s sensory integration: Promoting participation for children with autism. American Occupational Therapy Association: Incorporated.
Walker, N. (2014a). Neuroqueer: The writings of Dr. Nick Walker. Neurodiversity: Some basic terms & definitions. https://neuroqueer.com/neurodiversity-terms-and-definitions/
Walker, N. (2014b). Neuroqueer: The writings of Dr. Nick Walker. Neurotypical psychotherapists & autistic clients. https://neuroqueer.com/neurotypical-psychotherapists-and-autistic-clients/
After many months of work the new Talking Mats sensory resource; Me and My Senses is reaching the final phase and registrations open on Friday 31st March for our launch seminar. This blog gives an overview of what’s in the resource and our guest blog to be published on Friday is a powerful story of professional and personal learning with ‘Me and my senses’ playing a pivotal role.
The resource will aim to enable children and young people who have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and sensory integration difficulties to have a voice in their therapy assessment, planning and intervention. To find out more about the funding and development for this project please read the earlier blog here. It is also aimed at supporting all practitioners, regardless of their level of sensory integration training, to gain an individual’s voice of their ‘lived’ sensory experiences, needs and challenges.
It is divided into the following topics:
- My Spaces & Things I Do
- My Senses 1: Proprioception & Interoception
- My Senses 2: Vestibular
- My Senses 3: Taste, Smell, Hearing, Seeing, Touch
Use of the resource may contribute to sensory integration evaluation but does not replace a full sensory integration assessment, however it may equally work as a stand alone-tool. We hope that professionals from healthcare,education, in both mainstream and specialist settings, as well as colleagues in social care will value this resource.
Talking Mats is hosting an online seminar to introduce the resource and we have 50 sets to give away for free to the first 50 people who register for the seminar and are already Talking Mats trained. Registrations open on Friday.
We are always keen to support other Social Enterprises, and would like to introduce our community to Communication Inclusion People, a new enterprise with a big vision. Find out a little bit about them and how to contact them.
Hello – we are Communication Inclusion People. We are a new Scotland based social enterprise aiming to change the world.
Our mission is to work with others to create communication equality through universal adoption of inclusive communication best practice.
Talking Mats is a brilliant way of making communication about specific topics inclusive. We recommend it to many people. Most recently it was one of the resources we recommended in the Place Standard Tool Inclusive Communication Toolkit | Our Place
However, people need to understand information to find out an organisation even exists. We support organisations to be communication inclusive for their clients and staff – from the first hello to the last goodbye. Our work therefore compliments Talking Mats well. We help organisations to check, plan and develop their inclusive communication practice in everything they do. We always co-produce with people who communicate in different ways.
To find out more please contact us in the way you find easiest
In the first of 2 blogs on Selective Mutism, Vanessa Lloyd of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS FT describes using Talking Mats to give a young boy the opportunity to communicate at a time when talking was too hard.
Using Talking Mats with a primary school aged child with developmental Selective Mutism
Selective Mutism is a form of social anxiety characterised by stark differences in how a person communicates in different situations. There is also acute awareness of everyone around them who may be listening, either intentionally or accidentally. In Education settings Selective Mutism often become apparent at times of transition and teachers often describe a very different child to the one a parent knows at home. As a school therapist I have the job of finding the puzzle pieces and bringing them together in a way that home and school can understand. I have found the Talking Mats approach to be very useful when working in this area. Here’s an example;
I recently took a referral for ‘A’ who is 6 years old:
Main points from school:
- Joined 12months ago
- Not spoken at school in those 12 months
- Staff felt they didn’t know him
- Staff assumed he was happy not joining in
Main points from parents:
- Aware he is quiet in school
- This is who he is and he has been like this since starting Nursery
My observations indicated Selective Mutism;
- his body language indicated anxiety in situations where he was expected to speak or interact
I needed a way to feedback this anxiety to staff and for A to be heard without using his voice. After building a rapport with him I introduced Talking Mats and offered him the opportunity to engage
Using the Primary Communication Rating Scale (Johnson & Wintgens, 2016) as a basis, combined with an image system he was familiar with, I planned the symbols needed to support the conversation and set out the expectations for the activity. Fundamentally, I made it clear that he did not have to talk to me to participate.
How it went
The school environment.
As anticipated, he made his feelings instantly clear about the activities where he was required to talk, rapidly sorting them into ‘unsure’ or ‘don’t like’.
What was less expected was how relaxed his body language became, particularly when I suggested showing his class teacher. It was as though he knew that there was some power behind his arrangement of these symbols and he was ready to embrace it.
Talking at home.
Having fully grasped the potential of the task, this young boy set to work answering my questions through careful consideration and placement of symbols. The same questions that would otherwise spiral him into a freeze or flee response were now being answered with a newfound command of the situation. He had things to say, things he wanted people to know, and in that moment, he had a way of doing this
Taking it forward:
Showing the child’s perspective provided a powerful way of highlighting to school the misguided assumptions that had been made about his feelings and attitudes towards talking. The Talking Mat conversations opened the discussion about the importance of Selective Mutism intervention and created a platform for the child to be involved and be heard. He was a valued contributor in an environment which was previously inaccessible for him.
This year’s campaign focuses on the importance of healthy connections in supporting mental health and wellbeing. Being able to communicate feelings and opinions is a huge contributor to creating healthy connections. Whether it is because there is a visual focus or because the ‘side by side conversation’ is more comfortable, Talking Mats is a tool that allows the voice of the young person to be heard. Read these blogs on Mental Health and Young People and our Impact Stories (to follow!) to find out more and take advantage of our discount on the Advanced Keeping Safe online module (details at bottom)
- Dr Carla Innes, Clinical Psychologist for Learning Disabilities at Stockport Healthy Young Minds (CAMHS) describes how Talking Mats helps the team to gain more insight to the children and young people they are working with, and how it has helped intervention focus on the child’s potential, and zone of proximal development. https://www.talkingmats.com/talking-mats-and-mental-health/. This work in Stockport is further expanded on in a presentation by Dr Rosie Noyce, Clinical Psychologist, given at the Talking Mats 21st Birthday Event in August 2019. https://www.talkingmats.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Talking-Mats-and-Young-Peoples-Mental-Health.pdf
Sally Kedge, SLT with Talking Trouble, New Zealand shares 2 powerful case examples of using Talking Mats with children and families caught up in the Criminal Justice System and demonstrates how the connection with a therapist can be the key to unlocking feelings and emotions https: //www.talkingmats.com/support-for-prisoners-families-experience-from-new-zealand/ Natalie Paris, Project Lead for Cashback180 programme based within Mayfield and Easthouses Youth 2000 Project, shares stories of using Talking Mats with young people in Midlothian. https: //www.talkingmats.com/using-talking-mats-to-open-up-conversations-with-young-people/
- Our Director, Margo MacKay, describes using Talking Mats to ask young people about their environment and the impact different environments can have on wellbeing. https://www.talkingmats.com/consulting-children-impact-environment/
Laura Holmes, our Lead Associate for Children and Young People, writes about the Virtual Schools Team in Wigan and how they used Talking Mats with Looked After Children. https: //www.talkingmats.com/hearing-voices-looked-children-young-people/
Keeping safe is an Advanced Online Module and the first 20 people to sign up to this course will receive a 20% discount. Please remember you need to already be trained to Foundation Level to access this course. Use the code KS2020 at the checkout
We are delighted to speak at the 7th World Capacity Congress on Adult Capacity on the 7th of June 2022 about Talking Mats and Capacity. Talking Mats facilitates a balanced conversation that can help redress the power imbalance within capacity conversations. This is particularly key where people have communication and or cognitive difficulties, too often poor communication skills are conflated with lack of capacity.
Self – determination is enshrined in law. The fundamental principle we need to remember is that a person is deemed to have capacity to make decisions about their own lives unless assessed otherwise.
This photo shows how Talking Mats helps with determines capacity by supporting people to:
- Understand relevant information
- Retain information
- Weigh up information
- Communicate views and wishes
On the 8th of June, Lois’ speaks about Talking Mats specifically supported health decisions in podiatry using a specifically designed podiatry Talking Mats developed jointly with NHS Fife .
We have an exciting opportunity for a Development Associate to join Talking Mats Ltd.
Talking Mats Ltd is an award-winning social enterprise which originally developed from research at Stirling University and now has an international reach. We were delighted to receive a SMART award for research and innovation which allows us to embrace future technologies and Artificial Intelligence to enhance and develop our communication framework. We want to build a proof-of-concept system that can track user behaviour from both the Talking Mats app and video recordings and use data to automatically detect interactions that require the skill of a trained observer. This will be done using a combination of computer vision and machine learning algorithms.
We will also build the Data platform and Architecture on to our existing technology to allow TM Ltd to create new Data Services. These will provide key insights to support individuals and services by assessing organisational performance, identifying trends and risk factors. We want to be able to measure the quality of the input to maximise independent views. The successful candidate will understand the impact of communication impairment and have a track record of carrying out research. You will work collaboratively with the research team including, Dr Kevin Swingler, Head of Mathematical Science, University of Stirling and Dr Jill Bradshaw, University of Kent conducting qualitative and quantitative research. You will also be committed to the vision of Talking Mats to improve the lives of people with communication difficulties.
We are offering this position on a full time, fixed term basis until May 2023 but with the potential of joining our team in the longer term.
Closing date: 5pm Wednesday 11th May 2022
Interview date: Monday 16th May 2022
To view this vacancy and read a full job description, please click here.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.