Many thanks to Natalie Paris, CashBack 180 Project Lead for our latest guest blog. Natalie shares some powerful examples of how Talking Mats has helped her to open up conversations with the young people she works with:
I joined Y2K Mayfield and Easthouses Youth 2000 Project in February 2018 as a sessional worker looking to gain practical experience in youth work, I then became Part Time Young Women’s worker at Y2K, which gave me experience in working with vulnerable young women in Midlothian across an age range of 11 to 24, some with mild to moderate learning difficulties. When I first heard about the 180 project, I knew it was something I really wanted to be involved with, as I have always been interested in Criminology and Youth Offending.
In September 2018 I became the full-time 180 Project Lead, and have helped to shape and develop our CashBack 180 Project. CashBack 180 is a referral-based service, focusing on early support and prevention for young people involved in or at risk of becoming involved in offending, anti-social and risky behaviours.
We work with young people to make positive changes in order to work towards more positive futures. Young people accessing this service have the opportunity to take part in fun, participative and educational programmes of activities as well as 1:1 supports. The CashBack180 programme is delivered at Y2K, but we can also deliver programmes within High Schools.
CashBack 180 offers a menu of options and has adapted where necessary for our journey through the pandemic.
- 1:1 supports
- Groupwork programmes
- Community outreach support through detached youth work
Case Example 1:
A 12-year-old girl had been referred to me for violence, as she had attacked a girl in the playground, which was out of character for her. She was very uncomfortable in the 1 to 1 session, so I used a Talking Mat. This made the conversation flow more naturally.
I used the Relationships topic, with the top scale ‘going well/okay/not going well’. This helped me get more information. I found out that most of the issues she was having were around peer relationships. For example, friends saying things that weren’t true, and not being believed by others in her friendship group. This allowed me to plan a session around what is healthy and unhealthy in friendships.
Case Example 2:
I was working with a 14-year-old care experienced boy, who had been referred to me for Anti-social behaviour, and because he was easily led. Once I got to know this boy a little better, I realised that he did not have much support within his family, apart from his older brother who he lives with now. I realised he was someone who had just learned to cope himself, and probably didn’t have many people to turn to when worried about things. I thought coping would be a good topic for a Talking Mat, as he always said things were fine, but I didn’t feel it was the full truth. I used the top scale ‘going well/okay/not going well’. This gave us the opportunity to discuss healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms that he had and what he could do instead.
Case Example 3:
I was working with a 12-year-old care experienced boy, who had been referred to me due to his inappropriate sexualised language and reference to sexual experience. He has been out Mainstream school for 1 year, so had missed P7 sex education. I decided to start working on friendships and relationships over the first couple of weeks with him, to get an understanding of what he knew was acceptable in relationships. I used the Relationships Topic with the top scale ‘Going well/Okay/Not going well’. The Talking Mat helped me keep his attention for a little longer than usual, as he is a very chaotic young person and often gets up and walks about, or jumps on tables and pretends to be sleeping. It also showed me that he felt quite happy but was missing his friends from where he used to live. We are now looking at ways to address this.
Follow this link to Find out more about this project:
If you are feeling inspired and would like to know how you can access Talking Mats training, find out more here: https://www.talkingmats.com/training/
In these challenging times during lockdown/COVID-19 restrictions we have had to deliver our Speech and Language Therapy sessions differently. In my role as a Speech and Language Therapist for the NHS Stockport Foundation Trust Buy-Back Service, I am gathering feedback from some of the children I work with, using the free RCSLT Talking Mats resource topics described in my previous blog https://www.talkingmats.com/rcslt-lockdown-survey/
Many thanks to the Talking Mats-trained Teaching Assistants, Lucie Porteus (Woodley Primary School), and Dawn Wrigley (Romiley Primary School) for carrying out these sessions with the children involved. Talking Mats is used in both schools as a tool to support children to share their views and opinions about a wide range of topics, which enables child-centred practice and target-setting.
In this blog, I wanted to share some real-life examples for each topic. The topscale used for each topic is ‘Happy/ Not Sure/ Not Happy’:
Face to Face
For this mat session, Dawn took out the symbols that were not relevant. The child was able to express that he was happy about the face-to-face sessions he had been receiving, during which the SLT has had to wear full PPE. The child added a blank to say that he was happy about ‘Practising Sounds’ in particular, and added further information about ‘Activities’, sharing that he especially liked the penguin and fishing games. The child shared that he was not sure about next steps, and so in future sessions I will ensure that these are made clearer.
Mats completed with other children on this topic have helped to explore the impact of use of PPE and a common theme has been that children have not been happy about the SLT’s mask, usually because the child cannot see the SLT’s mouth. In our school sessions we have attempted to resolve this by having a staff member who is part of their school ‘bubble’ present, who is then able to model the speech sounds/language used by the SLT. I am also aware of SLTs who have used video clips of themselves modelling speech sounds, as another potential solution.
This mat enabled the child to share information about how they felt about video sessions using the Attend Anywhere platform. Lucie removed the options which were not relevant. The child was able to communicate that he felt happy about the SLT, Activities, and Family/Carer Support – he was happy that his Dad was sitting with him. The child was not sure about a few of the options such as time and number of sessions – and said that he wanted more sessions. He was also unsure about technology/access and mentioned that ‘sometimes I see her, sometimes I don’t. The child placed length of session on the negative side and said ‘I wanted it longer’. This information has helped me to plan for future video sessions, as I had previously been keeping the activities shorter to help to maintain his attention/focus. It is clear the child is happy about the activities completed and is keen for more – and longer – video sessions in future. I am also aware that I need to be clearer when explaining next steps at the end of the session, which will include letting the child know that he also be working on the activities during his keyworker time in school, with a member school staff.
This child was able to share lots of additional information during the Talking Mats session, which helped to provide a clearer picture of how he felt about his life during lockdown. For example, for ‘Mood’, he shared that ‘some days I am ok and some days I am not’. For ‘Family’: ‘sometimes I fall out with my brother and my sister annoys me’. School was between not sure and not happy because he said he “only likes Maths and topic and he really doesn’t like English”.
The child put Communication under ‘not sure’ and shared that “sometimes I struggle to talk because of that, and that makes me sad sometimes”.
The main action from this mat was to plan another Talking Mats session to submat ‘communication’, as when Dawn asked him if there was any he wanted to look at in a little more depth, he indicated the communication symbol and had said “that way I can move it from there to happy”. Another option which would be useful to explore further will be ‘mood’, to find out what helps/ does not help.
Exploring the topic ‘communication’ further will enable the child to express which aspects of communication he is feels are ‘going well/ going ok/ not going well’, which will then result in updated SLT target-setting and intervention.
The RCSLT Talking Mats Survey is open until the end of June 2021 – please make use of these free resources so that the children and adults we are working with can have their voices heard about their Speech and Language Therapy Provision during COVID-19 lockdown/restrictions. Please send your feedback forms to: email@example.com
Access your guidance and free resources here:
Guidance: TM RCSLT guidance text – March 2021
Feedback Form: TM RCSLT TM feedback form
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:
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.
I stole the lyrics and altered them slightly, but this is the song line that has kept popping into my head over the past few weeks as we find ourselves hurtling through the different phases of lockdown easing. The rules and recommendations that have guided our lives for the past 3 months or so are changing rapidly and change can be difficult. Communicating how we feel about change and life in general can be difficult.
We have seen creative uses of our resources and have really enjoyed learning how they have helped young people and adults express how they coped throughout lockdown and beyond. Kirsten Lamb’s guest blog about Returning to School After Lockdown is just one example of how the TM framework was invaluable in gaining the opinions of young people as they adapted to ongoing changes over which they had little or no control.
Another Talking Mats practitioner recently tweeted this mat that she did with a college student, showing how Talking Mats helped structure thinking about how life was going.
We felt a single resource was needed to help kick start a conversation around Life (but not as we know it; I am sure that’s a song too) looking at the following themes:
- Family / Friends / Bubbles / Social Distancing
- Mood / Emotion
- School / College
As with every Talking Mat you can change the top scale to be more or less concrete, you can use blanks to add in things that we haven’t included, you can leave things out that aren’t relevant. Download your free printable pdf here: LOCKDOWN SET
We look forward to hearing stories from our Talking Mats Community on how you helped others express themselves (definitely another song!)
Many thanks to our new Talking Mats Research Associate, Dr Jill Bradshaw (Tizard Centre, University of Kent), for this latest blog focusing on how Talking Mats can help people with communication difficulties to express themselves – to help work out the reasons for behaviour that challenges.
We know that around 10-15% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities display behaviour that can be challenging. This might include hitting out at other people or injuring themselves. These behaviours can serve very important functions for the individual (e.g. to avoid something unpleasant or to get a need met). When we try to help make things better, we often focus on improving communication, quality of life and health and wellbeing more broadly.
How do we work out why behaviours that are challenging occur?
We often spend time observing the person and talk to carers and staff who work with the person to gain information about what is working well and what might help. This is part of a functional analysis. Here, the aim is to identify the factors that have led to and are maintaining the behaviours displayed. Traditionally, we have not really asked people directly what they think. This is partly people who display behaviour that challenges almost always have complex communication challenges.
How can we better access views of children and adults and would Talking Mats be one way of gaining views?
Together with Nick Gore, we have been working on ways of using Talking Mats to enable children and adults to give their views. We developed a series of mats focusing on:
- Likes and dislikes;
- Difficult behaviours;
- Things that help;
- Things that don’t help;
- General preventative variables.
What happened when we used the Talking Mats?
People were able to use these Talking Mats to tell us about what was important to and important for them. Some information was similar to reports from carers and staff and some information was in addition. For example:
- we gained information about preferred activities, such as riding bikes and preferred snacks. Doing things we like to do is important for all of us!;
- people gave us information about their difficult behaviours and where these took place;
- people were also able to give us at least some information about what made a bad day and what helped on a bad day. This information helped to inform support strategies.
You can read more about this work here: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/67033/1/PDF_Proof%20%283%29.pdf
Using Talking Mats certainly enabled some people to give their views. It was particularly helpful as a way of talking about difficulties, where a focus on the mat rather than on direct questioning was useful.
As expected, more people were able to access the more concrete topics we discussed and the more abstract topics were more difficult. We have also been working with the Challenging Behaviour Foundation to develop a range of methods (including Talking Mats) to help to gain the views of people with communication challenges. You can read more about this work here:
To view Jill’s presentation about this topic from our Talking Mats is 21 event last August, click here: TM and PBS final version for handout
If you are interested in Talking Mats and Research and have completed our Foundation Training Course, you can find out more about our new Talking Mats Research Network Group by emailing Jill at J.Bradshaw@kent.ac.uk, and watch this space for a new blog all about the group – coming soon!
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 This 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.
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 –
To find out more about our resources, including our Digital Talking Mats app, check out this link here –
Many thanks to Lynn Blair, SLT (NHS North Lanarkshire) for writing this guest blog describing a recent project in which she and her colleagues used Talking Mats to gather the thoughts of secondary-aged pupils with social, emotional and behavioural support needs:
Do you remember your school janitor? Was he/she a cheery soul who you enjoyed talking to? Perhaps there was another member of school staff who you trusted and felt you could chat with. Secondary school can be a challenging environment for any teenager, let alone those who have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Young people need adults in their lives who they can feel at ease talking with.
The purpose of our recent project (See Lanarkshire SLT SEBN Poster 2019 and Lanarkshire SEBN Project Summary) was twofold. Firstly we wanted to find out how many of the young people in our local secondary schools for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural needs (SEBN) had language and communication difficulties. We also wanted to hear about the impact of those support needs by gathering the thoughts of the pupils themselves and that’s the focus of this blog.
We have to admit we were a bit anxious before we met with the pupils. Would these young men and women even give us the time of day with our friendly faces, mats and pictures? In the actual event, for the most part the tool was met with curiosity and then full engagement. The young people quickly grasped the idea. Some did not speak at all as they placed the images and others used the opportunity to tell us a great deal about how they felt about talking to different people in their lives and in different settings.
The information that we gathered is now being used to plan evidence-based speech and language therapy services to the school and young people. The use of Talking Mats gave us interesting information like the fact young people felt auxiliary staff such as janitors and assistants are often easier to talk with than teachers and as a result, we are thinking about how we involve all school staff in future events.
We are only too aware that the young people we met have often felt excluded from other people and from certain places. Talking Mats gave them the opportunity to be heard and we’re excited to consider how we can use them in the next phase of our work to support their communication needs.
If you are feeling inspired and would like to find out more about accessing Talking Mats Training – check out this link here: https://www.talkingmats.com/training/
Recently, Associated Prof. Ida Marie Mundt from Denmark completed our Talking Mats licensed trainer course. She has been looking at the theories which underpin Talking Mats and is planning to publish her work. One of the areas she speaks about is Identity.
In this blog, our Talking Mats Associate Rhona Matthews explores the area of Identity:
How do I know who I am? This is learned from actions, behaviour and language firstly with parents and family, then with friends.
For people who have difficulty interacting, this becomes much more difficult. There is a danger that others construct their identity.
A participant on our online training wrote about her experience of doing a Talking Mat for the first time with a girl who uses augmentative communication. She has a severe difficulty expressing her ideas and thoughts.
The topic was leisure activities and the top scale was things I like to do/ don’t like to do. She did this quickly and with no great surprises. The listener felt she didn’t get particularly useful information.
So she repeated the topic but with a different top scale. Things I am good at/Things I’m not good at.
Not surprisingly there was overlap with the earlier attempt. i.e. the things she felt good at, she liked which included horse riding.
Again the listener felt there was more conversation to be had! The thinker coped easily with another change of top scale which was things I want to get better / don’t want to get better at.
This time when the option of horse riding was handed over, the thinker became very animated, nodding in agreement. Not only did she want to improve her horse riding skills but wanted to learn about looking after horses. Her family had no idea that actually she didn’t just like riding but saw herself as a rider. This was part of her identity.
As Assoc. Prof. Ida says, Talking Mats offers a possibility to talk about who you are, and get other peoples’ responses.
If you are interested in accessing Talking Mats training we offer a variety of options, including online – check these out here: https://www.talkingmats.com/training/
Many thanks to Marit Boot, founder of the charity What? Why? Children in Hospital for this guest blog sharing information about the fantastic family-friendly videos they make to help children understand hospital procedures.
As a mum, I know the worry when your child is ill and needs tests in hospital. It’s the not knowing what is wrong, understanding all the different tests and how to explain them to your child. That’s why I founded the What? Why? Children in Hospital charity to make family-friendly videos about hospital. So when we make a new video explaining a procedure in an easy to understand way, it’s the reaction from parents that makes it worthwhile. The relief, that they now have an idea of what will happen and that they can share the video with their child, it makes their preparation much easier. I want to share with you the story of one of the mums in our latest video. Louise talked to us about Rocco’s gastrostomy feeding tube operation.
“We didn’t have anything like the videos WWCIH make when Rocco first had the gastrostomy surgery. Being a parent in that position is daunting. You want to do what’s right for your child but there’s so much to take in. It isn’t always easy to remember what you’re told in the doctor’s office. So when we had the opportunity to help other worried parents and children by making this video, we jumped at it.”
Thousands of children go through a gastrostomy procedure in Scotland every year. It’s a major procedure and can be a complex idea to communicate to children and anxious parents. In the videos, medical specialists talk through how a gastrostomy feeding tube works, how the procedure is done and how parents should look after the feeding tube at home.
The videos are absolutely fantastic! With 32 doctors, nurses and specialists helping to deal with my son’s complex needs, it can be overwhelming to take in information they give to us. These videos are amazing for parents to find out information when they’re ready to absorb it. Even if that’s when you finally get to sit down at 2am.Gastrostomy is major surgery and we had to weigh the risks against the benefits for Rocco’s life. There was so much to take in, about the operation, the aftercare. At one point the doctor used a teddy to show how the tube worked – it was useful but didn’t give the full picture. The videos What? Why? have made cover what you need to know in a calm, thoughtful way. They will be a huge help to worried parents and will help them explain to their child what will happen and why. They should make as many videos as possible!”
We have 55 videos on our YouTube channel about tests such as MRI, CT, ECG, ultrasounds, allergy tests, breathing tests and sleep studies and we are always making new ones. They’re made in partnership with children’s hospitals in Scotland and are suitable for school-aged children, children with learning difficulties and autism as well as parents and carers from all cultural backgrounds and literacy levels. The videos have already been viewed by 2.8 million families across the world.
If you know a parent or carer who’s worried about their child going to hospital send them to our YouTube page (WWCIH charity), Facebook page (@wwcih) or our website: www.wwcih.org.uk
And if there’s a procedure you think we should look at next, get in touch! We’re here to help children and parents just like you!
Marit Boot, Founder What? Why? Children in Hospital, July 2019