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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! 

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.

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.

The Talking Mats Foundation Training is a course that builds people’s confidence in using and applying Talking Mats to their work. Organisations can access this as a group ensuring staff can embed the Talking Mats approach and principles into their practice. The training also gives staff a common language for embedding a patient centred approach at the heart of a service.

We offer online training by;

  1. giving organisations access to our online training platform – this is designed as self-directed course, supported by a Talking Mats tutor, with a variety of activities and resources to support learning
  2. zoom/teams sessions
  3. a combination of both 1 and 2.

2020 saw an increase in organisations approaching Talking Mats for online team training and this has continued into 2021.  We will work with you to find the approach that best suits your staff group.

Online learning does not suit everyone and comments from participants are mixed.  Some really like the flexibility of being able to work at their own pace and find the site user friendly whilst others miss the interaction that face-to-face brings. As a team we miss the face-to-face training too but believe that our online training and the support we offer organisations is an excellent alternative.

It is easier to discuss the impact of an organisational course by giving an example. We recently ran a course using our online learning platform combined with short introductory and a follow-up session on Zoom for 24 staff working in an NHS Paediatric service.  Taking part on the course were Nurses, Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Dieticians and Speech and Language Therapists. It was great working with such a multidisciplinary group.  They all have communication at the heart of their practice and were keen to learn about a framework that could help them improve the effectiveness of their work.  There were different reasons for doing the course, but a common theme was wanting to have more ways of directly engaging and building relationships with the children they were working with rather than relying mostly on carer views. They wanted to be able to involve young people more meaningfully in some of the complex issues that surrounded their care.

It is always positive when a course has immediate impact and this staff group applied their learning in very different ways, for example Talking Mats was used to;

  • communicate with a young person with selective mutism,
  • involve a young woman who was self-harming to contribute to the strategies that help her reduce those behaviours ,
  • involve children in physiotherapy interventions.

One course participant said ‘I have practised with a couple of patients and it has made a massive impact on their lives already. One patient’s behaviours have dramatically reduced as I was able to support her to show how she felt about aspects of her care and resolve this.’ And another participant said ‘I have now used Talking Mats with a couple of young people with complex neurodevelopmental difficulties and this has helped engagement considerably, where things had felt stuck before’

An important part of Talking Mats training is to help participants think about their own communication style and how it impacts on interactions and relationships.  Staff said;

  • this course increased my awareness of my communication style and made me reflect more on how I communicate with my patients but also what I presume from my patients.
  • I am more aware of the communication demands I place on others as a clinician/therapist and am more confident in engaging people with communication difficulties.
  • It has made me think more about the language that i use during interactions.
  • It has definitely made me reflect on my own style of questioning, and helped improve my pacing and language skills. 

The feedback from this varied and engaged group of staff was positive and is summed up in this comment; ‘The course was very engaging, interesting, and easy to follow and understand. I have learned a lot from this. The reflective work throughout the modules really helped to connect the theory with the practice of Talking Mats. The course leaders were very involved, supportive and helpful!’

Our training is relevant to organisations working within Social Work, Advocacy, Dementia Support and Education as well as Health and Social Care.  If you think you would like to organise a course for your staff group please get in touch at info@talkingmats.com to talk it through.

Join the twitter chat exploring the recommendations of the Citizen’s Jury for people with intellectual disabilities and need for inclusive research practices   In 2018 the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory and Talking Mats were funded by the Wellcome Trust to set up a Citizens’ Jury for people with learning/intellectual disabilities. We wanted to develop and test an adapted method of deliberative democracy, and hopefully to demonstrate that people with learning/intellectual disabilities can consider complex questions relating to health research. We also wanted to show that with resources, planning and good quality facilitation this could lead to valuable insights into inclusive research.

After a period of knowledge and skills development with our citizens’ jury members we held the jury over 5 days at the end of 2019. In early 2020 the Jury published their consensus report containing 10 recommendations for health research. You can watch a video  the jury members made to communicate the recommendations here:  Research Voices Citizens’ Jury: Our recommendations Involving People with Learning Disabilities – YouTube We believe that this report provides crucial insights into how people with learning/intellectual disabilities want to have their voices heard when it comes to health research. The next stage for us and the jury members is to secure further funding to build on this work and take forward the jury’s recommendations.

Through the Research Voices project we wanted to share our learning and develop resources that could be shared with the research community. Our evaluation report provides a detailed review of the Research Voices project with comprehensive information about the jury process and outcomes. There is an easy read version available.

On Tuesday the 8th of June we will host a twitter chat about inclusive health research from 7pm – 8p.m . We hope to welcome researchers, self-advocates, third sector organisations, carers and others to contribute to this discussion.  If you have never joined a twitter chat before this is your opportunity. Here is how:

  • At 7p.m on the 8th June go to twitter search on the hashtag #researchvoices.
  • The first thing will be introductions – people can say who they are and where they come   When you respond in a twitter chat always use the hashtag of the chat, in this case, #researchvoices. Using the hashtag allows everyone to see the conversation.
  • Then we will post question 1 – when you respond to a question start with the question number e.g. Q1 but still remember to use the hashtag #researchvoices
  • Later on question 2 and question 3 will be posted. To respond put Q2 or Q3 and the hashtag #researchvoices
  • You can either respond directly to the questions or respond to the comments that other people have posed by saying what you liked or by asking them another question. Remember still use the hashtag #researchvoices in your response.
  • Sometimes people just want to observe the conversation. That’s fine too but remember you can join in the conversation at anytime
  • We look forward to seeing you on the 8th of June for this important twitter chat to share ideas and good practice

Questions….

Q1 How do the recommendations of the citizens Jury align with current research practice, what changes will you make to implement them, and what are the barriers to implementation?

Q2 What does successful inclusive practice look like to you – share your top tips for promoting inclusive research?

Q3 Inclusive research builds skills, expectations and connections with researchers with learning disabilities.  Does the research community have responsibility for maintaining this long term and if so how?

We are looking forward to our second Talking Mats Twitter chat on Thursday 10/12/20 7.30 – 8.30pm.

Join us to discuss and celebrate our new report ‘Can Scotland Be Brave’, which has a specific focus on children and young people’s participation.  Find out more about the report here https://www.talkingmats.com/new-report-to-launch-10th-dec/

The report will be launched by the Scottish Government on the same day, to coincide with Human Rights Day 2020.

Here are the questions we will be asking:

CYP Chat Q1

CYP Chat Q2

CYP Chat Q3

Grab a cuppa – or better still, a mulled wine and mince pie! – and join us to share experiences and ideas.

Remember to use the hashtag #TimeToTalkTM on all your posts!

A new report with a focus on children’s participation will launch on Thursday, 10th December. John Swinney, Depute first minister of Scotland  said that “The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill will revolutionise the way we listen to children and take their rights into account”  

 In 2018, the first review of ‘Ready to Act’ took place: a plan with bold ambitions and a key focus on child participation.  Around the same time the Scottish Government was making plans to incorporate UNCRC into law. In preparation for this, the Chief Allied Health Professions Officer, approved project funding for Talking Mats Social enterprise to investigate what was happening across our services in Health, Education and the Third sector. The question we focused on was How much did practitioners understand about the obligations of UNCRC Article 12 and what were they doing to ensure child participation?’. 

We chose 3 services who were already committed to upholding children’s rights. We wanted to share good practice and identify areas requiring further support. 

  • Indigo childcare, a Glasgow based social enterprise. They support families with children from birth up to the age of 16yrs.They provide a platform for improved life chances for young people. 
  • Langlees Primary school in Falkirk was working towards a Gold Rights Respecting Schools Awards and has an explicit focus on pupil wellbeing. 
  • Children and Young People’s Occupational Therapists – Fife Health & Social Care Partnership were focussing on increasing the involvement of children and young people in therapy decisions. 

Practitioners were trained in how to use Talking Mats. Over three months they were asked to give children and young people a space to share their views. We gathered all the learning and asked the children about how they felt.  The overwhelming comment was “It was nice to be listened to”  Many practitioners reflected that when CYP are given the opportunity to voice their opinions and are supported to come up with their own solutions, real change happens.  

I’m sure John Swinney is right, one thing that will revolutionise our practice is by ensuring our services adhere to the three UNCRC core principles of Dignity, Equality and Respect. We can then incorporate those shared values to give space, voice, audience and influence to the views of our children and young people and that will radically change our approach. We are delighted that this report called Can Scotland Brave will launch on  Human Rights Day, Thursday 10/12/20 .   

Discuss the report and celebrate with us at our Twitter Chat from 7.30-8.30pm.  Watch this space for our second blog which will include more information about the chat. 

Many thanks to Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT and Padraigin O’Flynn, External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT for this blog describing the newly launched UK-wide RCSLT Survey, which includes free Talking Mats resources to support those with communication difficulties to have their voices heard.

Like many of you, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) has been worried about the impact of COVID-19 on people with communication and swallowing needs. Based on what we’ve heard from our members, service user organisations and service users themselves we’ve been very concerned about how the UK-wide lockdown (March-June 2020) affected people’s access to the speech and language therapy they and their families and carers need. 

To help us understand the issue better and to inform our response, we’ve just launched a UK-wide survey. Following consultation with service user organisations, the three key questions we’re asking are: 

  • How did lockdown affect your speech and language therapy? 
  • What impact did this have on you? 
  • What are your thoughts about the future? 

From the start, we were clear: we wanted the survey to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, no matter how they communicate and no matter what their communication preference is. Over the past couple of months, we’ve worked with members to produce the survey in a range of accessible formats.  

We’re particularly delighted that one of those formats is Talking Mats – and we’re very grateful to Lois and Laura for all their advice and support . As you will know better than anyone, the mats will enable people to give us their views and tell us how they’ve felt and are feeling. We are delighted the mats will provide people with the means to self-advocate – this will add a richness to the survey findings that they might otherwise lack.  

Talking Mats

Well be working with service user organisations to promote the survey to their networks. But we’d also really like your help too. Please share the survey and encourage as many people as possible to fill it out. The more voices we hear, the more stories we collect and the more responses we receive, the greater the impact of the survey findings will be. 

Those findings, which we hope to publish early in the New Year, will be used to influence Governments, Parliaments and Assemblies across the United Kingdom. The case that will be making to ministers, officials and parliamentarians – that people must have access to the speech and language therapy they need – will be all the stronger for it being based on service users’ lived experiences. The very powerful testimony that the mats will provide will strengthen that case even further. 

The survey is open until 5pm on Friday, 8th January 2021 and you can find more information about it here: 

https://www.rcslt.org/learning/has-coronavirus-affected-your-access-to-speech-and-language-therapy 

We hope you find the mats useful and if you had any queries or wanted any more information, please let us know. We look forward to working with you to help make a difference to the lives of people with communication and swallowing needs. 

Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT 

Padraigin O’Flynn External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT 

Following on from last week’s guest blog, Edith Barrowcliffe from the Action Group describes how she has continued using Talking Mats throughout lockdown.  Please note that the image used in this blog is from a mock session and has been taken for publicity purposes only.

In the second week of March I was running a 9 week old pilot counselling service (HearMe at The Action Group) for adults with cognitive and/or communication difficulties, supported by Talking Mats.

A week later lockdown catapulted me into remote working and demonstrated just how crucial Talking Mats were. Without access to the digital app or a suitably high resolution webcam my first online sessions were conducted without them. One client immediately began struggling to retain the thread of their subject matter.

indoor_work

I quickly rigged up a secondary webcam, allowing me to shift between my face and a clear view of the physical mat on my desk. Clients direct me how to place the symbols for them.

I’ve recently acquired a Talking Mats digital license and am pleased to find I can add in additional images. My experience with the physical cards is that allowing the client to direct the session often means searching through multiple different sets or hastily drawing new images. We move at a slower pace because of this but it seems to be an important way of giving weight and attention to whatever the client (Thinker) brings. My fantasy version of the digital talking mats app would include an image search function allowing me to rapidly search all the symbols in all the sets, pick one and caption it appropriately mid-session!

The client I mentioned above uses Talking Mats in this very freeform way – when they tell me something I ask if they want to put it on the mat and they will reply yes, or no. Once I’ve located or drawn the image they tell me where to place it. Towards the end of the session we review the mat, photograph it, and I send them the picture.

 Another client uses a more structured approach. I present a choice of symbol sets based on topics that seem to be important to them (eg home environment, relationships, mobility). They select a topic and we begin a more typical talking mat, giving us a framework and focus to explore their feelings around each symbol. After a while the client/Thinker moves on to other emotionally weighted topics unrelated to the symbol set and we transition into something more akin to “regular” counselling – albeit with simplified, concrete, reflections of the kind proposed by Garry Prouty [1] Yet the Talking Mat seems to provide a “way in” to these deeper feelings that we otherwise don’t reach.

Not everyone uses Talking Mats. Lockdown has limited my capacity to offer it – not all clients have a computer/tablet for video calls and some clients actively prefer the phone. I’m continuing to learn, explore and find my way with this very diverse client group, but there is no doubt that Talking Mats opens up emotional exploration for some who might not normally manage it.

 Edith Barrowcliffe, Hear Me, The Action Group

With thanks to our funders and partners for making this work possible – Hospital Saturday Fund, The Action Group Board, Leith Benevolent Society, Port o’Leith Housing Association, and The  Scottish Government.  And to the team at Talking Mats for their support and help!

[1] [PROUTY, G. (2008) Pre-Therapy and the Pre-Expressive Self. In: PROUTY, G. (ed.) Emerging Developments in Pre-Therapy. Monmouth: PCCS Books; also PÖRTNER, M. (2007) Trust and Understanding. Revised Ed. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books, pp82-85].

 

A new, updated version of our Digital app, will be available in the New Year.  You can download a free taster version of our app here:

  https://www.talkingmats.com/product/talking-mats-taster/

For more information about using Talking Mats remotely, check out this recent blog:    

https://www.talkingmats.com/using-talking-mats-remotely/

 

 

Many thanks to Edith Barrowcliffe from The Action Group for sharing her experiences of using Talking Mats to support counselling with adults who have cognitive or communication difficulties. Watch this space for Edith’s follow-up blog next week which will describe how she has continued to use Talking Mats during lockdown.  Please note that the image used in this blog is from a mock session and has been taken for publicity purposes only.

Eleven years ago, I began working at The Action Group with adults who have additional support needs and was struck by how many had mental health difficulties that they were getting little help with. Sadly, with services scarce enough for the “mainstream” population, I could see why.

The issue resurfaced for me in 2016 when I began training as a counsellor. I kept returning to whether talking therapy was possible with those who had difficulty communicating – or even thinking about – their feelings.

Then in 2019, I attended Talking Mats training. Immediately excited by the potential for emotional connection, I signed up for the advanced “Keeping Safe” training and approached The Action Group’s CEO with the beginnings of a plan.

I’m fortunate in working for an organisation willing to take new ideas and run with them. Within six months I was embarking on a pilot project, called HearMe, offering counselling to adults with cognitive or communication difficulties, with Talking Mats as a key method to help overcome those barriers. Within a fortnight of opening the service was full to its limited capacity and had a waiting list!

The work has been experimental, learning as I go and adapting to the particular needs of each client. To conduct initial assessments, I’ve assembled symbols based on “Thoughts and Feelings” from the “Keeping Safe” pack. We return to this to review progress. Most clients have used a top scale of “True”/ ”Not True” with statements “about me” for the assessment. We always begin with a practice mat based on more neutral material, allowing the client (Thinker) to learn what’s involved and me to gauge whether the mat is right for them. This is crucial – one client found a way to frame everything we placed on the mat positively even when they’d been able to tell me the opposite was true a moment before! In this case we simply used each symbol as a focus for exploration.

We’ve kept the number of questions relatively small, but the assessment can take two or three sessions to complete as clients often respond quite deeply to the symbols.

Some more verbally able clients move on to a more “freeform” style of counselling as we progress, relying less on the mat to open up. But even in these cases having symbols on hand can be helpful. One client brought up the topic of sex – then apologised and asked if it was OK to talk about it.

“It’s fine,” I was able to reassure her, producing the relevant symbol. “Look, we even have a picture for it”. She laughed and visibly relaxed, the card giving her tangible evidence that the topic was allowed.

It’s still early days, but from the feedback we’ve received so far, the project really seems to be helping people to open up, express feelings they’ve never given space to before, and explore ways they want to change their lives.  The power of simply being heard.

Edith Barrowcliffe, Hear Me, The Action Group

 With thanks to our funders and partners for making this work possible – Hospital Saturday Fund, The Action Group Board, Leith Benevolent Society, Port o’Leith Housing Association, and The Scottish Government.  And to the team at Talking Mats for their support and help!

Follow the link below to find out more about our Keeping Safe training (now available online) and resource:

https://www.talkingmats.com/keeping-safe-a-new-talking-mats-resource-available-to-purchase/

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