Category Archives: Talking Mats principles

Covid 19 Experiences – Using Talking Mats in a Secure Hospital Setting

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As a group of Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) working in a secure hospital we recently embarked on a mini project using Talking Mats to check in with our service users with learning disabilities during Covid-19. We collated the evidence from our respective professional bodies (Royal College of Occupational Therapy, Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy, Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and British Dietetic Association) in terms of changes that people might experience if they’d had Covid-19 and produced a talking mat around these.  

It quickly dawned on us that we might be on to something here, and that creating an opportunity to ‘check in’ more broadly with our service users would serve a useful purpose, so we added some additional categories around changes to routine, psychological wellbeing and feeling safe.  

This was my colleagues’ first experience of using talking mats, and their faces when I turned up clutching my 99p actual doormat were a picture! I introduced them to the theory behind the mat and its presentation and harped on about the benefits in terms of attention, comprehension, non-threatening interaction, initiation and structuring narrative; they nodded supportively.  

We set off across our learning disability wards in multi-disciplinary pairs and all but a few of the service users agreed to have a chat with us. My colleagues commented that they were pleasantly surprised by the engagement and the amount and novelty of the information gained; we  identified things that the service users hadn’t told anyone because they hadn’t been asked that question!  

JB Blog Photo

In talking to others we were asked why weren’t rolling this out in a partner secure hospital for people with mental health conditions? ‘no reason really, we just haven’t got there yet’ we answered. Then came the…. but we can just do it like a questionnaire with them. This question wasn’t, and in my experience isn’t ever ill meant. It comes from a place of naivety in relation to the presence of communication difficulties in people with mental health conditions and because of that, lack of exposure to different professional groups such as Speech and Language Therapy and the skills and approaches we have to offer. Skills in gaining and holding someone’s attention. Skills in decreasing pressure in communication situations. Skills in enabling time, space and ways in which people can initiate their thoughts.  

The Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) working around the project has enabled me to show others how talking mats can support their practice. It has enabled them to see how a very simple and non-threatening visual tool can open up conversations and lead to information that the service users hadn’t shared before, in a way that a face to face conversation doesn’t.  

Thanks to Jo Brackley, Clinical Lead, Speech and Language Therapy Secure Services at Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust for this inspiring blog – which demonstrates when we shift the way we listen and gather information from patients we get a different result and improve the quality of information and communication . If you or your team want to consider Talking Mats training then we can provide this for organisations . At the moment we can take a cohort through our online course together and then arrange a zoom call to discuss application to your work setting  – email info@talkingmats.com for more information.

 

When is a Talking Mat not a Talking Mat?

DTM with arrow where you live

It’s always great to see pictures of Talking Mats on social media.  The stories behind them, and the positive changes that can result for people keeps us motivated to share this powerful tool.

It is apparent however that not all pictures that are called Talking Mats are actually Talking Mats!  For example,

TOP SCALES   If the  top scale is Yes / No Or  a tick /cross

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It is apparent from these mats that the questions are likely to be closed, and don’t provide a scale for reflection.  Closed questions can be leading and suggestive of a set answer the listener is seeking. e.g  ‘Did you enjoy your lunch?’  v. ‘How was your lunch?’

A yes/no, or a tick and cross at the top  are occasionally used with topics which appear to test understanding of rules, e.g acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in a classroom.   In that instance the listener facilitating the mat keeps the control and the power imbalance that exists in conversations for people with communication difficulties isn’t reduced.

The top scale used with each  topic is key to the mat working.  A Talking Mat could find out what the person thinks about the rules, and which ones they feel are good -not good or help -not help.   Our Foundation training includes how to match the top scale to the conversation. https://www.talkingmats.com/training/

TEACHING TALKING MATS   Some people with communication difficulties need to learn how to do Talking Mats.  Learning how to express a view can take time and has to be taught.  We  see pictures of what appear to be Teaching Mats. For example, starting with closed questions might be necessary to introduce the idea of preferences.

It is important that these Teaching Mats are not used as a true representation of a person’s view but seen as a step towards this skill- It can take time but great learning takes place along the way.

We have guidelines for teaching steps for people with autism on our website-

https://www.talkingmats.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/2018-Talking-Mats-and-ASD-guidelines.pdf

Supporting people to share what they think, and giving them the control to say when they are not happy with an aspect of their life, is within their legal rights.

‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’     Nelson Mandela

Having Better Conversations – Using Talking Mats Resources (Part 2)

Talking Mats

In the second of two blogs, we talk about how using Talking Mats Resources can help people have better conversations.   

Our first Resources blog (https://www.talkingmats.com/resources-with-training/) focused on the resource bundles which are available to purchase with our Foundation Training course.  This second blog focuses on the resources which are available to people who have completed our Foundation Training course. 

Remember that most of our resources are available in both low-tech, and digital, formats.   

Post-Training 

Once you have accessed one of our Foundation Training courses, you can purchase our resources at a reduced rate: 

1.    You can buy these in established sets using our post training order form, for example you may choose to buy a social care set, the secondary Children and Young people resource, or one of our Advanced sets (see 3. below). These sets all have 3 topics of conversation in them.

2.     New for 2020! – you can now buy individual topics of conversation from our ‘pick and mix’ selection, which includes topics  from our Health and Well-being Resource (also available as a bundle purchase with our Foundation Training course), as well as our Conversation Sets: 

conversation sets

 3. Our advanced sets, for example Keeping Safe and Thinking Ahead, are only available for those who have completed foundation training:

  • Keeping Safe: Give people time to reflect on their lives and raise concerns using this resource. This can help you to explore sensitive issues in a non-threatening way by creating a listening space, simplifying abstract ideas, supporting thoughts while encouraging expression and decision making.

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  • Thinking Ahead: Support people to express their views and help them plan for end of life using this resource. It will also be helpful for many other people to consider future options in their lives.

We are also planning to add a how was school today?‘ topic to our ‘pick and mix’ selection soon – so watch this space!

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To find out how our resources could help you in your professional area of work/setting, check out these links here:  https://www.talkingmats.com/where-you-work/

For more information about these resources please contact the office on 01786 479511 or email info@talkingmats.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Therapy Goal Setting with Children in a Specialist SLCN Setting

Talking Mats

Many thanks to Charlotte Phillips and Laura Douglas, SLTs at Blossom House School, New Malden, for this latest guest blog which looks at how Talking Mats are used for therapy goal setting within the context of a specialist school for children with SLCN.   Further information can be found on their RCSLT Poster Presentation (September 2019) here – AAC Poster RCSLT Conference September 2019

Goal setting can be a labyrinth to navigate! Do these goals reflect the pupil’s own views? Is there a discrepancy between staff and pupil ideas for goals? Are these goals motivating? Are the goals functional? Are pupils avoiding goals they would like to achieve for fear of failure? Add to this the language rich dialogue required in order to establish goals and similar to a maze you may encounter dead ends, twists, turns and a feeling of entrapment. How can we ensure we do not assume needs and that the goal setting process is collaborative and person-centered? Enter Talking Mats; a tool which enables you to make sense of the maze, like the lookout tower in the middle it allows you to have a clear view of how everything fits together. You’ll now find the goal of exiting is far easier!

How can Talking Mats help?

At Blossom House the Talking Mats framework is utilised at the beginning of therapy to support pupils with DLD and specific learning difficulties to identify areas of their strengths and needs and develop personally meaningful goals that are associated to these areas. Some of the pupils are competent verbal communicators within a social context but due to the emotive subjects they may be exploring they may not be able to access these skills within therapy. Talking Mats are also used to baseline students’ self-awareness alongside prompting pupil voice. Talking Mats are tangible and have low linguistic demands which allows students with kinaesthetic and/or visual learning style preferences, and communication needs to engage in these discussions.

Case Study SLCN school exampleThis Talking Mat (using Widgit Symbols as options) was created with a student at the start of therapy whilst the therapist was building a therapeutic relationship. It helped a student who was reticent to share with a new adult to have a full conversation about things that he was happy with and those that were not happy. The mat options were chosen to include a) communication strengths and needs, b) school subjects and c) some areas the SLT knew were areas of strength. The function of this mat was threefold: to baseline the confidence the student felt about certain areas (with the aim to increase this over therapy), to assess his self-awareness of his strengths and needs and finally to act as a tool to help prioritise targets for therapy and develop relevant goals. The student’s self-awareness was accurate as he was able to rate known areas of strength e.g. singing, dancing and drama, as ‘happy’, whilst known areas of difficulty e.g. spelling were accurately labelled as ‘not happy’. Some of the areas of need that the student rated matched the SLT’s referral information as priorities for therapy from his teacher (starred) therefore these were used to go on to create joint goals with the student.

Next Steps

The school would now like to embed Talking Mats as a whole school approach. The first step will be Talking Mats forming a core part of School council meetings to ensure that every pupil has a voice. There will be consultation with SLTs around integrating Talking Mats into the Annual review pupil voice protocol and into therapy outcome measures. This will be facilitated through the use of the digital talking mats package which allows for staff to create mats with pupils on the move, with minimal resources. These can then be emailed to staff and pupils which makes this information practical for staff to use within the context of their extremely busy school day. The use of technology to facilitate self-advocacy is an interesting field which needs further investigation.

If you are feeling inspired and would like to access Talking Mats training to enable you to introduce a similar approach in your school take a look here – 

https://www.talkingmats.com/training/foundation-training/

To find out more about our resources, including our Digital Talking Mats app, check out this link here – 

https://www.talkingmats.com/shop/

 

Introducing our New Talking Mats Honorary Research Associate

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The Talking Mats Board is delighted to appoint Dr Jill Bradshaw from the Tizard Centre, University of Kent, to the position of honorary research associate. This is our first appointment of this kind. Talking Mats is an evidence-based framework and research is important to us – but that research needs to be much more diverse, and involve a much wider range of people.

Jill’s role will be to give the Talking Mats team:

  • A sounding board for research ideas and proposals
  • Advice and support on publishing articles
  • Identify research gaps and advise on funding avenues

We are also very aware that a number of people are using Talking Mats as a research tool, and Jill will also help to develop a virtual research network to bring interested researchers together.  We are still exploring ways in which this could work, but it could involve an email network, virtual seminars and/or twitter chats. If you are interested in being included, and have completed our Talking Mats Foundation Training course, Jill would love to hear from you. Please email her on J.Bradshaw@kent.ac.uk – or email info@talkingmats.com and we will forward your interest to her.

Jill is really excited about this new post.  She says ‘We know that the voices of people who have communication challenges can be excluded from research. This is a great opportunity to work with others to think about how we can use Talking Mats creatively in research and to find ways of including views from a wider range of people’.

Lois Cameron

November 2019