Tag Archives: Research

Talking Mats to find out which activities children like


We are very grateful to Marieke Lindenschot from the Netherlands for this great blog about finding out what activities children like and we look forward to hearing the next stage of her PhD.

For my PhD research in the Netherlands I use Talking Mats as a tool for my interviews with children. The children I interview vary in their communication abilities. Some are able to express their opinions and feelings very well, others are not able to communicate orally. As I was able to purchase the Talking Mats cards without text, I wrote down the words in Dutch in ‘children’s language’ on the cards.

Last week was an exciting week. I conducted the first pilot interviews with a boy of 12 years, a boy of 9 years and a girl of 8 years. They varied in their development. The first interview went great. The child could express which activities he liked, which he disliked and which were ‘so, so’ (in between like and dislike). With Talking Mats he could also tell me with whom he performed the activities and where. It was a fun way to get a lot of information in only 15 minutes! The child and his mother were very enthusiastic. He was able to tell a lot more then he usually does when he is asked about his activities! Unfortunately the other two interviews didn’t produce the same amount of information. The cognitive level of these children seemed too low to use Talking Mats. The boy didn’t understand the top scale ‘like’ and ‘dislike’, whereas the girl didn’t recognize the activities on the cards.
Overall we were very satisfied with these pilot interviews. The goal was to check if the interview guide with Talking Mats ‘worked’ and also to see for which developmental level this way of interviewing is possible. The pilot interviews gave a lot of information on these two goals. I am looking forward to the next interviews as Talking Mats showed to be a very helpful tool in finding out which activities children like.

Please send us any other examples of how you have used Talking Mats.

Student placement with Talking Mats


We are delighted to have Celine Josephine Giese, a 4th year psychology student from the University of Stirling, on placement with us. As part of her placement she has to write a series of blogs which she has kindly shared with us. This is the first in the series.

Talking Mats is a social enterprise, that has developed a unique communication system that aspires to improve quality of life for people who struggle to communicate effectively, such as people with a learning disability or a stroke as well as people who have dementia. People who are affected by communication barriers have difficulty articulating their needs, emotions and wishes, which can be particularly challenging for carers and clinical practitioners.
The interactive communication tool consists of an actual doormat and different sets of communication symbols that are placed on the Talking Mat. The communication symbols represent a scale from positive, medium to negative. Specifically, designed topical image sets are used to communicate how the person feels about activities, eating, support and so forth. In addition, they also developed a digital app version.

DTM with arrow where you live

Talking Mats simplifies the communication process by breaking down information into small manageable chunks without the need for literacy. A range of training courses are offered to help individuals to use Talking Mats effectively.
The first day I arrived I was excited as I have not worked in an office environment before. In advance of the meeting I read a lot about their concept and ongoing projects to demonstrate my enthusiasm and interest. I was introduced to the team, who were all very kind and welcoming. During the first meeting, I was introduced to their communication system via a Talking Mat with a general interests’ topic to get to know me better. This was a great way to understand and see how their system works in action. We also filled out the placement agreement and discussed the project I will be involved in.
My role involves supporting Talking Mats in the analysis and impact of the training. For this I am looking at recorded Talking Mat outcome stories from trainees as part of a large-scale project in London Health Authority. I am recording specific details of the stories in an excel spreadsheet, such as the outcome for the patients which will aid the further development of Talking Mats and give feedback to the funders on their investment. Moreover, this analysis will shed light on the bigger impact Talking Mats has on the communication between patients and their carers.
The analysis will be useful in determining the impact Talking mat has on the person whose mat it is and on who used the mat i.e. the interviewer. In addition, it will provide evidence to the organisation of the effectiveness of using Talking Mats. My involvement in the thematic analysis will allow me to further develop excel skills and experience an office setting in a social enterprise, while expanding my knowledge on its origins, current use and future direction potential. Because the cases disclose patients’ personal details I have signed a confidentiality agreement. I look forward to learning more and contributing to the project as well as working with the team. The atmosphere is both pleasant and inspirational and I admire the concept of the enterprise and I feel privileged to be part of such a life changing organisation.

Celine’s second blog will be posted soon.

Using Talking Mats to Explore How Children and Young People with an Intellectual Disability Feel About Undergoing Clinical Procedures


Many thanks to Greg Cigan for this great blog about his study that explored how children and young people with an intellectual disability feel about undergoing clinical procedures.

A clinical procedure is any activity performed by a healthcare practitioner to diagnose, monitor and/or treat an illness such as blood pressure testing, x-rays and other scans (Cigan et al., 2016). While some procedures cause no pain or only mild discomfort when completed, others can be prolonged and potentially painful (Coyne and Scott, 2014). Children and young people with an intellectual disability are more likely to develop physical illnesses including epilepsy and digestive disorders than the general population and can be frequently required to undergo healthcare procedures (Emerson et al., 2011; Short and Calder, 2013). Yet, there is currently little empirical research reporting how children and young people with an intellectual disability experience procedures (Peninsula Cerebra Research Unit, 2016). More research is required so that healthcare services can better understand the needs of children and young people with an intellectual disability (Oulton et al., 2016). As part of my doctoral studies at Edge Hill University, I am conducting a study that explores how children and young people with an intellectual disability experience having a clinical procedure.

From the outset of the study, I felt it was important to obtain data directly from children and young people rather than relying on parents and carers to speak on their behalf. I was keen to adopt methods during interviews that would enable as many children and young people as possible to take part, including those who find verbal communication challenging. After researching different methods, I chose to utilise Talking Mats as the innovative design of the tool offered children and young people the option to express their views entirely non-verbally should they wish to by arranging symbol cards. To date, I have interviewed 11 children and young people about their experiences of undergoing procedures. Each participant was between 7-15 years of age at the time of the interview and had a mild to moderate intellectual disability.

Prior to an interview beginning, I spent time describing and showing each child/young person a Talking Mat and asked whether they would like to use the tool during their interview. Out of the 11 children and young people I have interviewed, three used a Talking Mat. Those that chose not to use the tool were older children who were confident having a verbal conversation with me or those who had a visual disability and could not see the symbols. In all cases, the decision of the child/young person in relation to using the Talking Mats was respected.

The three children who used the Talking Mats were able to express their views non-verbally and also seemed to convey more information than some of those who chose not to use the tool. Viewing the symbol cards within a Talking Mat appeared to help children and young people break down information into smaller chunks which then made it easier for them to process and discuss. Indeed, using a Talking Mat led all three children to discuss information that was new to their parents who sat in while s/he was being interviewed. An example of a completed Talking Mat is shown below which was created by an 11-year-old boy during his interview. The boy clearly expressed that he did not enjoy his experience of having a clinical procedure.

Within my study, I feel using Talking Mats has helped to augment the verbal communication of some of the children and young people which in turn enabled them to take part in interviews and share their views and experiences of procedures. Talking Mats are a valuable tool for researchers working within the field of intellectual disabilities. If used more widely, Talking Mats has the potential to enable more children and young people with intellectual disabilities to have the opportunity to be involved and express their views within healthcare research.

Reference List

CIGAN, G., BRAY, L., JACK, B. A. and KAEHNE, A., 2016. “It Was Kind of Scary”: The Experiences of Children and Young People with an Intellectual Disability of Undergoing Clinical Procedures in Healthcare Settings. Poster Presented at the 16th Seattle Club Conference (Awarded Best Poster Prize), 12-13 December. Glasgow: Glasgow Caledonian University.
COYNE, I. and SCOTT, P., 2014. Alternatives to Restraining Children for Clinical Procedures. Nursing Children and Young People, 26(2), pp. 22-27.
EMERSON, E., BAINES, S., ALLERTON, L. and WELCH, V., 2011. Health Inequalities and People with Learning Disabilities in the UK: 2011. Lancaster: Improving Health and Lives: Learning Disabilities Observatory.
PENINSULA CEREBRA RESEARCH UNIT, 2016. What’s the Evidence? Reducing Distress & Improving Cooperation with Invasive Medical Procedures for Children with Neurodisability. Exeter: University of Exeter.
SHORT, J. A. and CALDER, A., 2013. Anaesthesia for Children with Special Needs, Including Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Continuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care & Pain, 13(4), pp. 107-112.

If you would like more information about Greg’s work you can contact him at Cigang@edgehill.ac.uk

Talking Mats as a Research Method


We are very grateful to Lauren Pettit and her colleagues from Pretoria, South Africa for sending us their published paper on a recent research project which used Talking Mats as a research method.

The study’s aim was to describe and compare the views of adults with aphasia, their significant others and their speech and language pathologists regarding the importance of nine life areas for the rehabilitation of adults with aphasia.

They used Talking Mats to support 15 adults with expressive aphasia to rate 9 life areas in terms of importance to them. The 9 life areas they included were Domestic Life, Relationships, Work and Education, Leisure, Self-care, Learning and Thinking, Coping, Communication and Mobility. These are taken from the World Health Organisation International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health (WHO-ICF). The researchers also obtained the ratings of 15 significant others and the 15 speech and language pathologists treating them.

They found that most life areas were rated as important to work on in rehabilitation by most participants. However, there were some discrepancies between the views of the adults with aphasia and the other 2 groups in the study and significant discrepancies were noted for 3 of the 9 life areas.

The graphs below show the comparisons of the 3 groups of participants. Click on graphs to enlarge

Lauren Pettit 1Fig1. People with aphasia

Lauren Pettit 2Fig2. Significant others

Pettit 3Fig3. Speech and language pathologists

The researchers suggest that ‘These life areas can provide the ‘common language’ for team members to engage in dialogue and identify problem areas related to the daily life functioning of people with expressive aphasia. By simplifying some of the labels of the activities and participation dimensions of the WHO-ICF and pairing these labels with pictures and the interactive Talking Mats interview procedure, adults with expressive aphasia (who often have difficulty participating in the selection of rehabilitation priorities) were able to express their own views. This may be a first step in assisting the adult with aphasia to advocate for themselves and to exercise their right to identify the activities and participation opportunities which they would like to access, and to set rehabilitation priorities based on their choice. While the overlap in priorities among the three groups as found in this study is encouraging, the presence of some significant differences underlines the importance of the voice of adults with aphasia themselves. This ensures truly client-centred rehabilitation that underscores the principles of human rights and a focus on competence rather than deficits’.

To link to the full article:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10749357.2016.1207148aphasia

Please contact info@talkingmats if you would like to discuss using Talking Mats in research

Views of care in Hungary

hungary 1


Thanks to Agnes Turnpenny for her  guest blog on her research on  views of people moving form institutional care in Hungary.

There are approximately 15 thousand adults and children with learning disabilities living in large institutions in Hungary. The average size of these facilities is over 100 places, and living conditions as well as the quality of care are often very poor. The Hungarian Government adopted a strategy in 2010 to close and replace these institutions with smaller scale housing in the community. Between 2012 and 2016 six institutions closed and more than 600 people moved to new accommodation. The Mental Health Initiative of the Open Society Institute and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union commissioned a study to analyse the experiences of the deinstitutionalisation process and as part of this research we carried out some interviews to explore the views of people moving out of the institutions.

The participants – five men and four women – came from one institution in the North East of Hungary, they all had mild learning disability and some had additional mental health issues. Originally the study intended to explore the experience of moving out but due to delays in the project this was not possible. Instead, we decided to examine the expectations of moving from an institution to a smaller home that allows more independence and personalised support. Although only one of the participants had communication difficulties – thus conventional interview methods could have been utilised – I decided to use Talking Mats in order to help participants to contrast their current situation with expectations about the future.

I selected the ‘Where you live’ topic from the Social Care package with some additional images from the ‘Leisure and Environment’ and ‘Relationship’ topics. (The English labels were covered over with a Hungarian translation as most of the participants could read). The question I asked was “How do you feel about these aspects in the institution?” and “What do you think they will be like in the new home?”. (I forgot to take a mat with us, therefore we had to lay out cards on the table.)


It emerged – unsurprisingly – from the interviews that most participants anticipated the improvement of their living conditions from the move, especially better facilities (mainly bathroom and kitchen). Some also expected other positive changes, particularly less conflict with other residents, less noise and better safety –commenting on the prevalence of theft in the institution. There were also many uncertainties; people said they were unsure about how they would get on with their new housemates, how the new support arrangements with staff would work, whether the neighbours will be welcoming etc. The photos illustrate some these issues.i1

Overall, Talking Mats proved to be a very useful tool in interviewing participants, who really engaged with the method. The images and the completed mats encouraged further comments and explanations on issues that participants considered important with minimum prompting. The drawings were easily recognised and appropriate in the Hungarian context without any adaptations other than the labels. Finally, I felt that the use of Talking Mats in this particular situation helped to overcome some of the power imbalance between the researcher and the participants by giving them more control when handing over the images.

We are really grateful to Agnes Turnpenny from The Tizard Centre University of Kent for sharing her experience . We really value our European work and European connections.