Category Archives: Research

Short stories from our accredited training course in Stirling.


Five short stories from our recent accredited training course in Stirling.

  1. A looked after child was unhappy but no one knew specifically why. Using the Talking Mats, she indicated that she was upset by the weekly phone call with her mother because it always happened when it was her playing time. The time of the call was moved to just before her bedtime but this resulted in bad dreams. The time of the call was finally moved to Saturday afternoon which helped her settle and reduced her distress.
  2. Talking Mats was used with an Iraqi boy who had come to England via Libya, Italy and the jungle camp at Calais. When he picked the symbol of a waiting room he indicated that despite all she had been through he really liked this because it reminded him of all the children in his family and made him happy.
  3. A 76-year-old man with a learning disability disclosed that he had been attacked and suffocated by his upstairs neighbour one week previously. It was only when he used the Talking Mats that he disclosed to anyone what had happened.
  4. A lecturer usually used quantifying measuring with her students to find out how they were managing their studies. Instead she used Talking Mats to find out how they were coping with their work life balance. One student told her that she was managing fine except that her pet rabbits always escape under the bed and it takes her a long time to get them back out so she does not let them out very often!
  5. Talking Mats was used with a man who had had a stroke and had to go into residential care because his family could no longer look after him. They were very worried that he was unhappy with the new care set up. He was able to show with the Talking Mats that he was happy about everything except that he was not given enough time when he went to the toilet. Once the staff realised this they then gave him more time which resolved the situation and reassured his family.

Please send us your Talking Mats stories – we love hearing them.

Student placement with Talking Mats


We are delighted to have Celine Josephine Giese, a 4th year psychology student from the University of Stirling, on placement with us. As part of her placement she has to write a series of blogs which she has kindly shared with us. This is the first in the series.

Talking Mats is a social enterprise, that has developed a unique communication system that aspires to improve quality of life for people who struggle to communicate effectively, such as people with a learning disability or a stroke as well as people who have dementia. People who are affected by communication barriers have difficulty articulating their needs, emotions and wishes, which can be particularly challenging for carers and clinical practitioners.
The interactive communication tool consists of an actual doormat and different sets of communication symbols that are placed on the Talking Mat. The communication symbols represent a scale from positive, medium to negative. Specifically, designed topical image sets are used to communicate how the person feels about activities, eating, support and so forth. In addition, they also developed a digital app version.

DTM with arrow where you live

Talking Mats simplifies the communication process by breaking down information into small manageable chunks without the need for literacy. A range of training courses are offered to help individuals to use Talking Mats effectively.
The first day I arrived I was excited as I have not worked in an office environment before. In advance of the meeting I read a lot about their concept and ongoing projects to demonstrate my enthusiasm and interest. I was introduced to the team, who were all very kind and welcoming. During the first meeting, I was introduced to their communication system via a Talking Mat with a general interests’ topic to get to know me better. This was a great way to understand and see how their system works in action. We also filled out the placement agreement and discussed the project I will be involved in.
My role involves supporting Talking Mats in the analysis and impact of the training. For this I am looking at recorded Talking Mat outcome stories from trainees as part of a large-scale project in London Health Authority. I am recording specific details of the stories in an excel spreadsheet, such as the outcome for the patients which will aid the further development of Talking Mats and give feedback to the funders on their investment. Moreover, this analysis will shed light on the bigger impact Talking Mats has on the communication between patients and their carers.
The analysis will be useful in determining the impact Talking mat has on the person whose mat it is and on who used the mat i.e. the interviewer. In addition, it will provide evidence to the organisation of the effectiveness of using Talking Mats. My involvement in the thematic analysis will allow me to further develop excel skills and experience an office setting in a social enterprise, while expanding my knowledge on its origins, current use and future direction potential. Because the cases disclose patients’ personal details I have signed a confidentiality agreement. I look forward to learning more and contributing to the project as well as working with the team. The atmosphere is both pleasant and inspirational and I admire the concept of the enterprise and I feel privileged to be part of such a life changing organisation.

Celine’s second blog will be posted soon.

Talking Mats as a Research Method


We are very grateful to Lauren Pettit and her colleagues from Pretoria, South Africa for sending us their published paper on a recent research project which used Talking Mats as a research method.

The study’s aim was to describe and compare the views of adults with aphasia, their significant others and their speech and language pathologists regarding the importance of nine life areas for the rehabilitation of adults with aphasia.

They used Talking Mats to support 15 adults with expressive aphasia to rate 9 life areas in terms of importance to them. The 9 life areas they included were Domestic Life, Relationships, Work and Education, Leisure, Self-care, Learning and Thinking, Coping, Communication and Mobility. These are taken from the World Health Organisation International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health (WHO-ICF). The researchers also obtained the ratings of 15 significant others and the 15 speech and language pathologists treating them.

They found that most life areas were rated as important to work on in rehabilitation by most participants. However, there were some discrepancies between the views of the adults with aphasia and the other 2 groups in the study and significant discrepancies were noted for 3 of the 9 life areas.

The graphs below show the comparisons of the 3 groups of participants. Click on graphs to enlarge

Lauren Pettit 1Fig1. People with aphasia

Lauren Pettit 2Fig2. Significant others

Pettit 3Fig3. Speech and language pathologists

The researchers suggest that ‘These life areas can provide the ‘common language’ for team members to engage in dialogue and identify problem areas related to the daily life functioning of people with expressive aphasia. By simplifying some of the labels of the activities and participation dimensions of the WHO-ICF and pairing these labels with pictures and the interactive Talking Mats interview procedure, adults with expressive aphasia (who often have difficulty participating in the selection of rehabilitation priorities) were able to express their own views. This may be a first step in assisting the adult with aphasia to advocate for themselves and to exercise their right to identify the activities and participation opportunities which they would like to access, and to set rehabilitation priorities based on their choice. While the overlap in priorities among the three groups as found in this study is encouraging, the presence of some significant differences underlines the importance of the voice of adults with aphasia themselves. This ensures truly client-centred rehabilitation that underscores the principles of human rights and a focus on competence rather than deficits’.

To link to the full article:

Please contact info@talkingmats if you would like to discuss using Talking Mats in research

Views of care in Hungary

hungary 1


Thanks to Agnes Turnpenny for her  guest blog on her research on  views of people moving form institutional care in Hungary.

There are approximately 15 thousand adults and children with learning disabilities living in large institutions in Hungary. The average size of these facilities is over 100 places, and living conditions as well as the quality of care are often very poor. The Hungarian Government adopted a strategy in 2010 to close and replace these institutions with smaller scale housing in the community. Between 2012 and 2016 six institutions closed and more than 600 people moved to new accommodation. The Mental Health Initiative of the Open Society Institute and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union commissioned a study to analyse the experiences of the deinstitutionalisation process and as part of this research we carried out some interviews to explore the views of people moving out of the institutions.

The participants – five men and four women – came from one institution in the North East of Hungary, they all had mild learning disability and some had additional mental health issues. Originally the study intended to explore the experience of moving out but due to delays in the project this was not possible. Instead, we decided to examine the expectations of moving from an institution to a smaller home that allows more independence and personalised support. Although only one of the participants had communication difficulties – thus conventional interview methods could have been utilised – I decided to use Talking Mats in order to help participants to contrast their current situation with expectations about the future.

I selected the ‘Where you live’ topic from the Social Care package with some additional images from the ‘Leisure and Environment’ and ‘Relationship’ topics. (The English labels were covered over with a Hungarian translation as most of the participants could read). The question I asked was “How do you feel about these aspects in the institution?” and “What do you think they will be like in the new home?”. (I forgot to take a mat with us, therefore we had to lay out cards on the table.)


It emerged – unsurprisingly – from the interviews that most participants anticipated the improvement of their living conditions from the move, especially better facilities (mainly bathroom and kitchen). Some also expected other positive changes, particularly less conflict with other residents, less noise and better safety –commenting on the prevalence of theft in the institution. There were also many uncertainties; people said they were unsure about how they would get on with their new housemates, how the new support arrangements with staff would work, whether the neighbours will be welcoming etc. The photos illustrate some these issues.i1

Overall, Talking Mats proved to be a very useful tool in interviewing participants, who really engaged with the method. The images and the completed mats encouraged further comments and explanations on issues that participants considered important with minimum prompting. The drawings were easily recognised and appropriate in the Hungarian context without any adaptations other than the labels. Finally, I felt that the use of Talking Mats in this particular situation helped to overcome some of the power imbalance between the researcher and the participants by giving them more control when handing over the images.

We are really grateful to Agnes Turnpenny from The Tizard Centre University of Kent for sharing her experience . We really value our European work and European connections.

Dementia and Mealtimes


One of the issues which has emerged from  previous Talking Mats and dementia projects is that many people with dementia experience difficulties with mealtimes and that it can affect people at any stage of dementia.
Mealtimes involve two of our most fundamental human needs, the basic physiological requirements for food and drink and interpersonal involvement. Mealtimes are particularly important for people with dementia as they may develop difficulties both with eating as a source of nourishment and with the social aspects of mealtimes.

In 2015 Joan Murphy and James McKillop carried out a project, funded by the Miss EC Hendry Charitable Trust, to gather information from the first-hand experience of people with dementia about their views about mealtimes. We ran three focus groups and used the Talking Mats Eating and Drinking Resource to allow participants to reflect, express and share their views.

The people who took part in this study felt that there were significant changes in their eating and drinking since their diagnosis of dementia. For some, their experience of mealtimes had changed and several said that they now skip breakfast and sometimes lunch. For some this seemed to be related to forgetting to eat and drink, for others it related to changes in taste whereas for others these meals seemed to be simply less important. Forgetting to eat was particularly noted by the participants with dementia and confirmed by their spouses.
The social aspect of eating and drinking also changed for many of the participants and, given the importance of social engagement for quality of life it is important to be aware of the effects of changes in eating and drinking on mealtime dynamics. For some it may be that they are now less interested in the social aspect of eating with others at home. Others found it hard to eat out because of distractions and lack of familiarity while some felt embarrassed about eating out in front of strangers. Others still really enjoyed going out for meals but added that they preferred to go somewhere well-known to them. The shared mealtime may be a particularly crucial opportunity for social engagement as it plays a central role in our daily lives. Social relationships are central for not only enhancing quality of life, but also for preventing ill health and decreasing mortality (Maher, 2013).
Almost all the participants talked about how their taste had changed both for food and drink which in turn affected their appetite. Some families had overcome the problem of lack of taste by going for more strongly flavoured food. When asked specifically about drinking, thirst was noted as a significant change since diagnosis
Their feelings about the texture of food did not appear to have changed significantly and was simply a matter of preference.

Three additional health issues which the participants felt were connected with eating and drinking were poorer energy levels than before their diagnosis, reduction in ability to concentrate and changes in sleep patterns.

For a copy of the full report please click here Dementia and Mealtimes – final report 2015