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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Access your guidance and free resources here:
Symbol Sets: https://www.talkingmats.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Symbol-Set.pdf
Guidance: TM RCSLT guidance text – March 2021
Feedback Form: TM RCSLT TM feedback form
The recent RCSLT survey (https://www.talkingmats.com/rcslt_survey/) has been aimed at finding out how access to Speech and Language Therapy was affected by the first COVID-19 lockdown, from March 2020 to June 2020. This has now come to an end, and the results are due to be published next month.
Given that we are now in our third lockdown as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased to announce that RCSLT will continue to be gathering Talking Mats examples up until the end of June 2021. These examples should be focusing on the current lockdown (January – March 2021). We would love to hear about the responses you have been getting from the children, young people, and adults who access your Speech and Language Therapy services. Remember it is possible to use these resources during remote sessions by holding the mat up to the screen.
The Talking Mats RCSLT survey sets comprise of 3 topics:
For those of us who are able to deliver face-to-face Speech and Language Therapy sessions, we find ourselves continuing to don PPE, and use social distancing. What has been the impact of this on those we are working with? The topscale we recommend for all the topics in this set is ‘Happy with/ Not Sure/ Not Happy With’.
Many Speech and Language Therapy sessions are now being delivered online, using platforms such as Attend Anywhere/Near Me, or Teams/Zoom. What has been the impact of this on those we are working with?
3. My Life
This final topic focuses on the more general area of ‘My Life’. What has been the impact of this current lockdown on the general quality of life experienced by those we are working with, and what are their thoughts for the future? This can help to open up the conversation in relation to their communication and/or dysphagia needs.
We recommend that those using this resource have accessed our Talking Mats Foundation training. Ideally the mats should be carried out by someone other than the SLT to avoid any skewing of responses, however we understand that this is not always possible, and so if the SLT has carried out a session themselves, we would suggest that this is noted in the feedback form.
Watch out for the second part of this blog which will focus on providing some real-life examples for each of the above topics. If you have any you would like to share with us, we would love to hear from you.
For further guidance on how to use this resource, follow this link: https://www.rcslt.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/TM-20201008-TM-RCSLT-guidance-text.pdf
Find the feedback form which you can use to submit your responses to RCSLT here: TM RCSLT TM feedback form
We are really looking forward to our first ever Talking Mats Twitter Chat on Thursday 01.10.20 from 7.30 – 8.30pm!
It will be a great opportunity to share experiences and ideas – here are the questions we will be asking:
This will be followed by a brief summary of the key learning points from the discussion. Join in and remember to use #TimeToTalkTM in all your comments – we look forward to chatting with you all!
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.
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  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!
 [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:
For more information about using Talking Mats remotely, check out this recent blog: