Tag Archives: AAC

Promoting Inclusion and Participation


As part of the Right to Speak initiative Talking Mats was funded to develop ‘Promoting Inclusion and Participation’: an online learning resource for staff working with children and young people who use Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC).  We have been delighted to work with NHS Education Scotland on developing this free resource and also have really enjoyed working in partnership with the learning and development consultancy: Forum Interactive.

The complexity of care for children and young people who use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) is multifaceted. Ensuring that goals are centred on the young person and family’s needs is a constant challenge to practitioners. There are several resources that focus on developing the technical skills of developing AAC but there is a scarcity of resources that focus on the impact of AAC on the child’s day to day life.

Promoting Inclusion and Participation is based on an earlier project which determined the key indicators of a quality AAC service from the perspective of AAC users and their families.

Promoting Inclusion and Participation uses the following frameworks to help practitioners structure their decision making:

  1. International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health – Children and Young People (ICF-CY)
  2. Janice Light’s Communicative Competencies (2014)
  3. GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) wellbeing indicators

Section2-350x350These are brought to life in a series of DVD vignettes which tell the stories from the perspective of the child, their families and schools. It poses the practitioners’ questions that allow them to reflect on the impact of AAC on the child’s day to day life. The resource is designed to be used for group discussion. The feedback from the expert practitioners that reviewed the material suggest that the DVD and resulting questions can enable AAC practitioners to have  a rich discussion about best practice and how to time educational and therapeutic input to achieve holistic outcomes.

This on-line resource will help practitioners:

  1. Understand the role that collaboration and involvement play in delivering wellbeing outcomes for children who use AAC.
  2. Apply a holistic approach and outcomes focused approach to assessment, implementation and review which places the child at the centre.
  3. Recognise that as the child develops and changes, so the level of different team member’s involvement will ebb and flow.

Download the resource here. It takes a little time to download so be patient !

We would be delighted to receive feedback of how it is being used.


Light J , Mcnaughton D, Communicative Competence for Individuals who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication: A New Definition for a New Era of Communication? Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 2014; 30(1): 1–18



Handing over control of communication


Handing over control of communication seems to be the most difficult of all the skills we need to have when we are taking part in communicative exchanges. Just how difficult this is, even for skilled communicators, can be clearly seen when people are using Talking Mats. Handing over control of communication is one of the fundamental principles of the talking mats framework. If the person has the physical skills, the facilitator physically hands over this control by handing the person the symbol (and of course other approaches are used when the person does not have the physical skills). The ‘thinker’ (the person who is doing the Talking Mat) then places the symbol on the Talking Mat, under one of the points on the pre-agreed top-scale, having been asked an open question e.g. how do you feel about …….?
When facilitators are learning about this approach, they seem to find it easier to ask open questions, slightly harder to stick to the agreed top scale but really difficult to hand over all of that control. As part of the training, participants film themselves using Talking Mats with someone. We use that clip to reflect on the facilitators’ skills, by taking about things that we liked and then reflecting on ‘it would have been good if…….’
The video clips work really well as participants can see themselves making the errors of retaining control in small (but nonetheless significant ways) e.g.
• Having the mat facing themselves rather than the ‘thinker’
• Moving the symbols after they have been placed by the ‘thinker’ to tidy them up/to make it easier for facilitator to see them
• Forgetting to give a neutral response where ever the symbols are placed (even if the facilitator thinks that the symbol has been ‘misplaced’)
• Telling people that they must place the symbols in rows underneath one another
• Not letting people use the top-scale creatively e.g. by placing the symbols at specific points between the top-scale e.g. to represent unsure but I am more happy with it than not.

The great thing about the Talking Mats training is that participants noticed these things that they were doing and will be working hard at noticing and doing them less in future.

We find it hard to give up control and find it hard to notice the things we do to retain this control, even when we are working within the talking mats framework. This is a framework where we are ‘symbolically’ handing over that control in the form of giving someone a symbol and so have a very obvious reminder of whose turn it is. How many ways then must we do it in everyday conversations and never notice? After all, in every day conversations, there are typically much less obvious reminders of whose turn it is and who should be in control.

Many thanks to Dr Jill Bradshaw, Lecturer in Learning Disabilities/Consultancy Development Manager, Tizard Centre, University of Kent for this thoughtful blog.

Right to Speak Scotland Legacy

AAC  for all

In June 2012 the Scottish Government published “A Right to Speak” (Scottish Government 2012) which included a four million pound fund to help improve services in Scotland for people who use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC).  At that time we were a small fledging social enterprise with a vision to improve the lives of people with communication difficulties in Scotland.  We have been fortunate to be able to make our contribution to Right to Speak and as the initiative ends at the end of this month it is good to reflect on the work that we have contributed to over the past 3 years.

AAC outcomes

At the beginning we were heavily involved in the research aspect of the project, carrying out a critical appraisal of outcomes for people working in AAC. This led onto a second project to evaluate the validity and reliability of the Therapy Outcome Measure for AAC. We  were pleased to be able to do this in conjunction with Prof Pam Enderby and a number of AAC professionals throughout Scotland. The Therapy Outcomes Measures, third edition has just been published which includes a section on AAC co-written with Joan and Sally. This should allow professionals to be much more specific in monitoring and measuring the impact of AAC intervention.

Quality indicators  

A second piece of research we carried out was to explore what matters to AAC users in terms of service delivery. It was a great privilege to listen to the views of people who use AAC from all over Scotland and we were able to theme those views into 10 key quality indicators. This led on to one AAC partnership asking us to design a Talking Mat to enable AAC users to give feedback on their service. This was successful and NHS Education then asked us to roll that out across Scotland. 40 people have just attended 4 specialist seminars and received the resource. We believe that taking the time to listen to people and ask for feedback in a structured way is really important and so to continue to support that we are making the ‘Talking Mats AAC feedback’ script ,symbol set people and symbols set services available on the free stuff section of our web site.

Promoting Inclusion and Participation

 We were fortunate to win the tender to design an online learning resource for staff working with children and young people. It is designed to help professionals take a holistic and values based approach to working with young people to support their health and wellbeing. The resource contains a collection of film clips that depict three different environments in which young people use AAC: a mainstream primary school, a mainstream high school and a specialist school. It provides a Learner’s Workbook which shows the learner how to use the film clips to improve the way they promote inclusion and participation for young AAC users. It will support equip practitioners to shift from a model of working where interventions are done to the child/young person to a process where work is done with children and families to focus on what is important to them. It is about to launch on the NHS Education web site.

Training and accredited training

There has been a significant focus on developing a well trained staff through the right to speak initiative and helping people understand about communication. We have been delighted to play our role in that. Up and down Scotland we have run training courses for different AAC partnerships e.g Lanarkshire, Fife, Highland, Western Isles, Tayside. We have also had people coming to train here in  Stirling .We are particularly pleased that there have been several people who have completed their accredited trainers and  who will be able to continue and sustain training in their local area. In one Health board for example, there is a plan to train a further 300 front line staff in Talking Mats

Moving forward

It’s been a busy 3 years and it’s both exciting and gratifying that so many more people know about AAC and know that it is not a responsibility that rests with just one profession . The complexity of communication means we all have to play our part but we all recognise there is still much to do to really ensure people who use AAC are fully included in society.

As a social enterprise we would no longer describe ourselves as ‘fledgling’ –we have well and truly hatched ! We are grateful that during our critical start-up period winning tenders for right to speak also helped us on our journey. We will continue to fulfil our vision of supporting people with communication difficulties and we recognise right to speak has given us a legacy of research and resources that will help us do that.

Getting feedback on AAC services


Getting feedback on AAC services  is particularly challenging because of the communication support needs of this group of people. It is therefore really important for AAC users to have the chance to say how they feel about the services they receive. Services need to make sure that this group of people have a voice and that there is a mechanism for their views to be taken into account in monitoring the quality of services and service planning.


NES has funded the opportunity for professionals to attend a seminar and go away with a resource to support them to get feedback from AAC users about their service.  The Talking Mats resource was trialled and developed with Forth Valley AAC partnership and is based on AAC quality indicators (NES 2013).

This opportunity is free of charge to people in AAC partnerships in Scotland. You will attend a half day specialist seminar and go away with a free resource to use in practice.

The resource will help people find out how AAC users feel about:

  • People who work with them
  • How AAC services are delivered

It provides a model of good practice which could be extended to evaluate other services.

4 dates and locations are available.

Edinburgh-           Tuesday 17th March  1.45 -4-.30pm

Dundee –           Wednesday 18th March  1.45 -4.30pm

Glasgow            Thursday 19th March – 1.45 -4.30pm

Inverness          Friday 20th March       1.45 -4.30 pm

If you are trained in Talking Mats and wish to take up this  great opportunity, please book your place as soon as possible.

sally@talkingmats.com    or rhona@talkingmats.com

Talking Mats Specialist Seminars

Recently we delivered two Talking Mats specialist seminars in London:

  • Talking Mats and the Eating and Drinking resource
  • Talking Mats and Capacity

Both seminars were very well attended with lots of discussion from a wide range of professionals.

During the Eating and Drinking seminar, we provided background on how and why the resource was developed and showed some DVD examples of people using the resource. This really brought things to life and showed how important it is to give people (with and without speech) the opportunity to consider and talk about different aspects of eating and drinking. We also gave people hands-on practice in using the symbols from each topic.journey
Each participant received a copy of the full resource, including symbols, a mat, and explanatory booklet.

During the Capacity seminar we discussed the fundamental principles the Capacity Act and participants had a chance to consider how Talking Mats can help people to:

  • understand
  • retain/remember
  • weigh up information
  • communicate their views/wishes and feelings.

They were also given the opportunity to work through some practical examples and think about options to help people understand issues and make decisions. making_decisions

If you would like to attend our next specialist seminars, we are holding them in Stirling on 17th February: Stirling Seminars Feb 2015 flier