Launch of new resource and module, Communication Matters Conference 2023
Tuesday 12th September – launch seminar, Lois Cameron & Katherine Small.
Discount code will be revealed at the seminar giving 15% off the online module with the resource.
Communication is a fundamental human right, yet many individuals with communication difficulties face daily challenges in expressing their thoughts, needs and feelings. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is a powerful tool that bridges this communication gap, and Talking Mats is one innovative approach that has proven highly effective in enhancing the lives of those who use AAC.
However, in the 25 years that Talking Mats has been developing resources we have never created one that specifically addresses the needs of AAC users.
The new resource, Supporting Communication with AAC and the online advanced training module, AAC will be launched at this year’s Communication Matters Conference 9th-11th September.
Ace Centre first contacted us in 2018 with the idea of developing a specific assessment resource that would allow the person considering using AAC to express their views about it; were they ready to use AAC, did it fit with their life and communication needs and how much support would be required? This could then inform decisions around referrals onto specialist AAC services.
As with all Talking Mats resources, this one was piloted and discussed and changed until the final version was reached. Thank you to all the practitioners and clients who gave their time and energy in that process. Thank you also to the Scottish Centre of Technology for the Communication Impaired who also collaborated on the resource and the module.
The outcome is a resource that can contribute to both assessments and reviews, and an Advanced online training module, both of which aim to put the AAC user at the heart of decision making about their communication.
Here is a brief outline of the resource and the module.
Supporting Communication with AAC (card and digital resource)
This topic considers the ‘How’, ‘Who’ and ‘Where’ of interactions and helps develop an understanding of the Thinkers communication needs. It can be completed when you are getting to know the Thinker.
Joining in conversations
These topics are designed to help a Thinker explore how they feel about their AAC resource when it comes to joining in conversations and reflect the fact that an individual often uses a combination of communication modes to be effective. The three topic cards are: Verbal conversation, Paper support and Electronic Support.
How your AAC works
This topics explores different ways of accessing the AAC device as well as the different features it has, incluing functions, appearance, sound, and access.
If you are trained in Talking Mats to Foundation level you can buy the resource from our website
AAC Advanced module
To access this course you must have already completed the Foundation Course.
The objective of this course is to ensure that AAC users are at the heart of decision making and that necessary adaptations are in place to support those conversations
The course is split into three different sections:
Aim – to recognise the different topics and who they might be suitable for
Aim – to recognise different positions, places and methods for a Thinker to access a Talking Mat
Aim – to recognise the dynamics in a conversation, and appraise the process of using additional people during a Talking Mat
To successfully complete the course participants must pass the quiz and contribute to the forum telling us about their experience.
Courses will run from the 1st of every month starting in November.
Launch of Resource and Module, Communication Matters Conference 2023
Tuesday 12th September – launch seminar, Lois Cameron & Katherine Small.
Discount code will be revealed at the seminar giving 15% off the online module with the resource
See you there!
Our new digital platform with enhanced features
Talking mats have been researched and developed over a period of more than 20 years. Initially Talking Mats developed as a paper based communication framework but there was always much interest in having it as a digital resource so our first digital Talking Mats platform was released in 2012.
In the years since its release the Talking Mats digital platform has helped thousands of people who otherwise would find it challenging to express how they feel, but with the discontinuation of Flash player the opportunity to create a new web-app presented itself. We are delighted to say that it is here! Combining it with the new website means that we are able to include many of the features that our customers have wanted, including the ability to:
- Add and save photos
- Personalise conversations by adding symbols from other sets
- Create and save your own personalised mats ( provided you are foundation trained )
- Think through and order your Talking Mats conversation
- Change and select an appropriate Top Scale
- File your thinker’s mat in an easy to retrieve manner
- Easily carry out remote Talking Mats conversations
Our Digital Support Officer, Mark, is here to take you through the headlines of the new app, as well as some useful information for existing users.
In a nutshell
The new Digital Talking Mats (DTM) is a subscription-based web app which is access via our new look website www.talkingmats.com. It contains all the Talking Mats resources currently available to purchase to ensure that it can be used in as many different contexts to help as many different people as possible.
We wanted to ensure that there was a DTM subscription for everyone. To that end, there are three different levels of individual subscription (starter, enhanced, complete) which can be renewed on a monthly or annual basis. There is also a licence specifically for organisations which offers the chance to have multiple users tied to an organisation, all at ‘complete’ level.
Once you have signed up for a subscription, you can easily see the details in the ‘subscriptions’ section of your account.
Existing Digital Talking Mats customers
If you had access to version 1 of the digital Talking Mats please keep an eye on your inbox as you will be getting an email giving you access to the new version . If you do not receive such an email please get In touch with us.
App Features and How to Use Them
Once you have subscribed and accessed the app, there is immediately a helpful video which tells you all you need to know about how to use the app. This includes setting up a new thinker, creating a new Talking Mat with the symbols of your choice, and how to view snapshots of previous sessions you have carried out.
All browsers are equal, but some are more equal than others. Our app is optimised for Google Chrome, but will also work on Firefox and Microsoft Edge. Internet explorer is not supported. It is a good idea to make sure your browser is as up to date as possible for the best user experience. Mor detailed information on browser compatibility is available here
We recognise that internet is not always available in homes, schools or many other places, and so it is very important to us that the app works offline. Unfortunately due to the fact it is till relatively fresh, the app will not work offline yet, but rest assured this feature is in the pipeline. One option in the meantime is to use a device that can hotspot (most smartphones will have this feature) and carry out a Talking Mat online.
When you are navigating from page to page in the app, it is actually creating overlays on a single web page. This means that when you are in the app, if you press the ‘back’ button on your browser, it will take you out of the app completely.
If you have any questions about the Digital Talking Mats platform or you are interested in learning more, you can get I touch with Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Wednesday November 10th we held a colloquium with the University of Edinburgh and NHS fife to report on the findings of the research that was funded with the Burdett foundation . The easy-read version of this report can be found here.
48 people attended the online event on Wednesday and engaged in some very thoughtful discussion and reflection on communication in forensic settings. There was much to think about including whether ethos and values align with self-determination , how to get communication taken seriously by staff who are often under huge pressure. Consideration of where power lies in an organisation and an acknowledgment that in order to share power staff themselves need to feel they have power.
The recognition that in the promotion of shared decision making, you increase the risk of people taking what others may see as unwise decisions. The need to support the capacity of people to be involved in decision making early on and in the smaller decisions of life and not leaving including them to a crisis.
The importance of further research in his area and that small clinically driven research projects have an important role to play in addition to ones funded by bigger grants. There is much to digest and we are hoping to keep the conversation going.
If you would like to see for yourself the research presented and the topics discussed at the colloquium you can watch the recording of the Zoom session here.
If you want to attend foundation Talking Mats training please find out more here. if you have completed your foundation training please consider attending the Keeping Safe advanced online module which includes the Keeping Safe resource . If you have the Keeping Safe resource please download the new Being Included bolt on to use with it.
Many thanks to Karen Mellon, NHS Fife Lead Podiatrist for Learning Disabilities and Care Homes, for this guest blog describing our exciting Fife Health Charity funded project, aimed at supporting patients with a learning disability (LD), or dementia, to be more involved in decisions around their care.
I was initially introduced to Talking Mats by my Learning Disability SLT colleagues who were using the resource to support patient engagement. I could see the real benefits of how it could support our interactions with patients with a LD or dementia and empower people to be more involved with decisions around their care. Our SLT colleagues had undertaken the Talking Mats Train the Trainer program and were then able to train our podiatrists in using the resource. Having used the existing resources we found that we weren’t able to discuss/explore people’s views deeply enough, for example, when they developed a foot ulceration, or were at risk of ulceration. This was the spark that ignited the idea to look at developing a specific foot care resource to enable these conversations.
The aim was to promote patient engagement in their care – both in preventative care and when specialised input is required. By creating the resource we aimed to explore what really mattered to the person and what for them were acceptable goals and outcomes. By developing a specific Talking Mats resource we were able to explore treatments options and impact of conditions and actively engage the person in expressing their views thus creating a person centred care plan. Evidence shows us when people are involved in decision making they are more satisfied with their care, which in turns improves their quality of life.
Having consulted with Talking Mats we jointly created an initial resource which we piloted within NHS Fife over a 6 week period. People living within care homes and people with a learning disability were the target audience for the pilot. Using the resource, we were able to understand more about the impact that foot ulceration was having on patients, and patient’s views on treatment options.
One example of this positive impact involves a 60 year old patient with learning disabilities and dementia. She lives independently with one hour support each day to assist with personal care. She has been known to podiatry for some time due to repeated ulceration. Specialist footwear has been supplied and regular input is in place to reduce the risk of re-occurrence, however at times the foot does break down.
In May the patient experienced a break down on her foot. She is a very pleasant lady who always comes across as if nothing bothers her and everything is fine; she doesn’t like to “cause a fuss”. It was felt the use of a Talking Mat might give us greater insight into the impact the wound was having.
As a result of completing the Talking Mat we were able to discover the patient was in fact experiencing difficulties with the type of dressing and was experiencing pain. We were able to address this and change the dressing type to an adhesive dressing, which took up less room in her shoe, and started her on Paracetamol 4 times a day to address her pain. Follow up discussions reveal the patient was much more satisfied with the dressing, it was more comfortable and easier to keep dry when showering. She also reported to be experiencing much less pain.
As a result of the mat, we were able to identify concerns she had, but didn’t want to share as she didn’t want to be a burden. We were able to address this and create a plan which was acceptable to the patient and improved her wellbeing.
I hope this resource will go on to benefit other professionals and carers working with people who may be impacted by their foot health. By using this resource, we can help our patients explore their views and wishes, therefore enabling co-production in care. The resource promotes preventative care as well as specialist intervention. Going forward there are many other areas of foot health that could potentially be explored in developing further resources – such as paediatrics, nail surgery, musculoskeletal.
Book your place on the Talking Mats and foot care training course on 26th April/ 7th June being run jointly between ourselves and Karen Mellon . The price includes the resource .
To find out more about the work and projects supported by the Fife Health Charity follow their Social Media accounts at:
Facebook – @fifehealthcharity
Twitter – @FifeHealth
The Talking Mats Foundation Training is a course that builds people’s confidence in using and applying Talking Mats to their work. Organisations can access this as a group ensuring staff can embed the Talking Mats approach and principles into their practice. The training also gives staff a common language for embedding a patient centred approach at the heart of a service.
We offer online training by;
- giving organisations access to our online training platform – this is designed as self-directed course, supported by a Talking Mats tutor, with a variety of activities and resources to support learning
- zoom/teams sessions
- a combination of both 1 and 2.
2020 saw an increase in organisations approaching Talking Mats for online team training and this has continued into 2021. We will work with you to find the approach that best suits your staff group.
Online learning does not suit everyone and comments from participants are mixed. Some really like the flexibility of being able to work at their own pace and find the site user friendly whilst others miss the interaction that face-to-face brings. As a team we miss the face-to-face training too but believe that our online training and the support we offer organisations is an excellent alternative.
It is easier to discuss the impact of an organisational course by giving an example. We recently ran a course using our online learning platform combined with short introductory and a follow-up session on Zoom for 24 staff working in an NHS Paediatric service. Taking part on the course were Nurses, Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Dieticians and Speech and Language Therapists. It was great working with such a multidisciplinary group. They all have communication at the heart of their practice and were keen to learn about a framework that could help them improve the effectiveness of their work. There were different reasons for doing the course, but a common theme was wanting to have more ways of directly engaging and building relationships with the children they were working with rather than relying mostly on carer views. They wanted to be able to involve young people more meaningfully in some of the complex issues that surrounded their care.
It is always positive when a course has immediate impact and this staff group applied their learning in very different ways, for example Talking Mats was used to;
- communicate with a young person with selective mutism,
- involve a young woman who was self-harming to contribute to the strategies that help her reduce those behaviours ,
- involve children in physiotherapy interventions.
One course participant said ‘I have practised with a couple of patients and it has made a massive impact on their lives already. One patient’s behaviours have dramatically reduced as I was able to support her to show how she felt about aspects of her care and resolve this.’ And another participant said ‘I have now used Talking Mats with a couple of young people with complex neurodevelopmental difficulties and this has helped engagement considerably, where things had felt stuck before’
An important part of Talking Mats training is to help participants think about their own communication style and how it impacts on interactions and relationships. Staff said;
- this course increased my awareness of my communication style and made me reflect more on how I communicate with my patients but also what I presume from my patients.
- I am more aware of the communication demands I place on others as a clinician/therapist and am more confident in engaging people with communication difficulties.
- It has made me think more about the language that i use during interactions.
- It has definitely made me reflect on my own style of questioning, and helped improve my pacing and language skills.
The feedback from this varied and engaged group of staff was positive and is summed up in this comment; ‘The course was very engaging, interesting, and easy to follow and understand. I have learned a lot from this. The reflective work throughout the modules really helped to connect the theory with the practice of Talking Mats. The course leaders were very involved, supportive and helpful!’
Our training is relevant to organisations working within Social Work, Advocacy, Dementia Support and Education as well as Health and Social Care. If you think you would like to organise a course for your staff group please get in touch at email@example.com to talk it through.
Join the twitter chat exploring the recommendations of the Citizen’s Jury for people with intellectual disabilities and need for inclusive research practices In 2018 the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory and Talking Mats were funded by the Wellcome Trust to set up a Citizens’ Jury for people with learning/intellectual disabilities. We wanted to develop and test an adapted method of deliberative democracy, and hopefully to demonstrate that people with learning/intellectual disabilities can consider complex questions relating to health research. We also wanted to show that with resources, planning and good quality facilitation this could lead to valuable insights into inclusive research.
After a period of knowledge and skills development with our citizens’ jury members we held the jury over 5 days at the end of 2019. In early 2020 the Jury published their consensus report containing 10 recommendations for health research. You can watch a video the jury members made to communicate the recommendations here: Research Voices Citizens’ Jury: Our recommendations Involving People with Learning Disabilities – YouTube We believe that this report provides crucial insights into how people with learning/intellectual disabilities want to have their voices heard when it comes to health research. The next stage for us and the jury members is to secure further funding to build on this work and take forward the jury’s recommendations.
Through the Research Voices project we wanted to share our learning and develop resources that could be shared with the research community. Our evaluation report provides a detailed review of the Research Voices project with comprehensive information about the jury process and outcomes. There is an easy read version available.
On Tuesday the 8th of June we will host a twitter chat about inclusive health research from 7pm – 8p.m . We hope to welcome researchers, self-advocates, third sector organisations, carers and others to contribute to this discussion. If you have never joined a twitter chat before this is your opportunity. Here is how:
- At 7p.m on the 8th June go to twitter search on the hashtag #researchvoices.
- The first thing will be introductions – people can say who they are and where they come When you respond in a twitter chat always use the hashtag of the chat, in this case, #researchvoices. Using the hashtag allows everyone to see the conversation.
- Then we will post question 1 – when you respond to a question start with the question number e.g. Q1 but still remember to use the hashtag #researchvoices
- Later on question 2 and question 3 will be posted. To respond put Q2 or Q3 and the hashtag #researchvoices
- You can either respond directly to the questions or respond to the comments that other people have posed by saying what you liked or by asking them another question. Remember still use the hashtag #researchvoices in your response.
- Sometimes people just want to observe the conversation. That’s fine too but remember you can join in the conversation at anytime
- We look forward to seeing you on the 8th of June for this important twitter chat to share ideas and good practice
Q1 How do the recommendations of the citizens Jury align with current research practice, what changes will you make to implement them, and what are the barriers to implementation?
Q2 What does successful inclusive practice look like to you – share your top tips for promoting inclusive research?
Q3 Inclusive research builds skills, expectations and connections with researchers with learning disabilities. Does the research community have responsibility for maintaining this long term and if so how?
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.
Many thanks to Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT and Padraigin O’Flynn, External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT for this blog describing the newly launched UK-wide RCSLT Survey, which includes free Talking Mats resources to support those with communication difficulties to have their voices heard.
Like many of you, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) has been worried about the impact of COVID-19 on people with communication and swallowing needs. Based on what we’ve heard from our members, service user organisations and service users themselves we’ve been very concerned about how the UK-wide lockdown (March-June 2020) affected people’s access to the speech and language therapy they and their families and carers need.
To help us understand the issue better and to inform our response, we’ve just launched a UK-wide survey. Following consultation with service user organisations, the three key questions we’re asking are:
- How did lockdown affect your speech and language therapy?
- What impact did this have on you?
- What are your thoughts about the future?
From the start, we were clear: we wanted the survey to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, no matter how they communicate and no matter what their communication preference is. Over the past couple of months, we’ve worked with members to produce the survey in a range of accessible formats.
We’re particularly delighted that one of those formats is Talking Mats – and we’re very grateful to Lois and Laura for all their advice and support . As you will know better than anyone, the mats will enable people to give us their views and tell us how they’ve felt and are feeling. We are delighted the mats will provide people with the means to self-advocate – this will add a richness to the survey findings that they might otherwise lack.
We’ll be working with service user organisations to promote the survey to their networks. But we’d also really like your help too. Please share the survey and encourage as many people as possible to fill it out. The more voices we hear, the more stories we collect and the more responses we receive, the greater the impact of the survey findings will be.
Those findings, which we hope to publish early in the New Year, will be used to influence Governments, Parliaments and Assemblies across the United Kingdom. The case that will be making to ministers, officials and parliamentarians – that people must have access to the speech and language therapy they need – will be all the stronger for it being based on service users’ lived experiences. The very powerful testimony that the mats will provide will strengthen that case even further.
The survey is open until 5pm on Friday, 8th January 2021 and you can find more information about it here:
We hope you find the mats useful and if you had any queries or wanted any more information, please let us know. We look forward to working with you to help make a difference to the lives of people with communication and swallowing needs.
Peter Just, Head of External Affairs, RCSLT
Padraigin O’Flynn External Affairs Assistant, RCSLT
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: