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!
On the 17th April we held a seminar exploring the innovative work being done to support young people with communication needs within justice and mental health settings in both New Zealand and Scotland Read about the morning in our first blog Talking Trouble, New Zealand kindly gave a gift to all delegates of their fantastic Top Tip cards shown in the photo . You can download your own set here
The afternoon session continued the underlying theme that communication support needs are often hidden and many looked after children have support needs that remain unidentified.
Dr Ann Clark from Queen Margaret University presented her research findings looking at Panel members’ and Children’s Reporters’ perspectives on communication in Hearings. Her informative presentation highlighted the need and desire for more training on Speech, Language and Communication Needs. The conclusion was that it is better to assume ALL children who are attending a Hearing have additional support needs, whether or not they have a diagnosis of Speech Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and Social Work support is also essential in achieving positive outcomes for Looked After Children. SLCN in Hearings April 2018
Our interactive session asked participants to reflect on the information presented during the day and to think about opportunities to improve practice in supporting communication as well as the barriers faced. The main themes that emerged from the barriers were:
- Identifying Speech, Language and Communication Needs in children and young people
- Constraints within Speech and Language therapy services
- Lack of education and training – the word “communication” because practitioners think they know about it when in fact there is a large knowledge gap
- Routes to services can be either Offending or Mental Health pathway
- The balance of power and control in relationships between the practitioner and the person with SLCNs – how committed are we to put genuine inclusive communication approaches in place.
Identify the barriers helps to inform the opportunities and the themes emerging were:
- Some good collaborative practice is happening already and the impact of working together is proven in research – we need to extend this further.
- Joint training sessions – good visual and other communication supports
- SLT have a vital role going forward
- We have a real opportunity at the moment to effect real change in a legislative context with recent Government policy
Kim Harley Kean, Head of the Royal College of Speech and language therapy Scotland office concluded the day and injected a great sense of impetus going forward. She asked 2 key questions:
Q: Is communication support and equality an issue in justice and care services?
Q: Do we want to do something about that?
Having responded with a unanimous YES she helped us to see the potential we have for change. It was obvious from the day that collaboration is vital and the event demonstrated how many different professions and organisations want to do something about the issues. We can be more effective if we do this collectively, even across continents!
The majority of participants felt we should use the event to establish a collaborative network. The key purposes would be to:
- Market – get message out there – tell more people – politicians, government and public – about Speech Language and Communication in Criminal Justice Settings explaining how SLT and Talking Mats have a vital role.
- Share stories, gather evidence.
- Facilitate enriching conversations between practitioners, for example, about aptitudes and approaches needed to negotiate communication behaviour change among professionals as well as people with SLCN…
If you would like to join the network and help to influence change please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a request to add your name to the youth justice mailing list.
Laura Holmes was pleased to meet up with Rachel Clemow, Head Teacher and Donna Wood, Education Support Worker who work for the Virtual Schools Team in Wigan to find out about the impact of Talking Mats training.
Donna accessed a Talking Mats Training last year delivered by a Talking Mats accredited Trainer in Wigan Educational Psychology service and quickly put her training into practice with the children that she works with, using the Consulting Children and Young People – Primary resource pack. Other members of the team soon recognised the potential benefits of introducing this approach themselves, and so, in April 2017, a further 15 members of the Virtual Schools Team received Talking Mats training.
Looked After Children can often struggle to express their thoughts and feelings, often as a result of their situation/ circumstances. This can be further compounded if they also present with speech, language and communication difficulties. There is a higher risk of such difficulties within the LAC population (Cross 1999 ).
Often there are many professionals involved with a Looked After Child, all asking a wide variety of questions, some of which can be highly personal and/or emotive in nature. The team have observed that children will sometimes end up giving answers which they think the listener wants to hear, rather than answers which reflect their true feelings/views – or the child may withdraw from the process entirely. Consequently, it can be very difficult to ensure that the true ‘voice of the child’ is being heard. Sometimes the children themselves struggle to understand what their own feelings are – often the topics and questions can be complex and involve abstract concepts.
Rachel and Donna report that the Talking Mats approach has had a big impact on their communication style when working with the children on their caseloads, and has enabled children to express their thoughts and views in a safe, neutral environment. Some of the comments they made about Talking Mats were that it:
– Enables the listener to get to know a child quicker and more easily as there is no pressure/expectation of the ‘thinker’ – it is a child/’thinker’ led approach.
– Provides way of supporting the child to open up to express their views and feelings, even if they have previously been hard to engage – and for the child to develop better insight into their own feelings.
– Helps to avoid the possibility of adult/listener misinterpretation of what the child is trying to communicate.
– Enables the child to focus on pictures – which appears to result in the child being more comfortable in expressing their own views and feelings – as opposed to what the child thinks the listener wants to hear.
– Provides a holistic view of the child – which can support target setting and planning at key stages for that child, for example, transition to High School.
– Gives the child something they can be successful at – there are no ‘wrong’ answers.
Donna shared a great example of how Talking Mats helped a young girl to describe an issue at home which she had not shared with any carers or school staff previously. The child placed the ‘home’ option symbol on the ‘not happy’ section of the mat then began to whisper to Donna explaining the reason why. This resulted in Donna being able to share the information with school staff and social care, consequently, the issue was resolved.
Services, organisations and schools in Wigan are already using the Talking Mats approach as a result of widespread training delivered by our Accredited trainers in the Educational Psychology Team. This provides a great example of how using Talking Mats across agencies can really help a whole area to become more child/ young person led.
The Virtual Schools team are now recommending the Talking Mats approach to other agencies working with the Looked After Children on their caseloads, such as adoption and fostering services.
If want to access the training then there are Talking Mats foundation courses run regularly in London, Stirling , Manchester and Newcastle . Once you have attended a foundation training and gained experience you can apply to become an accredited trainer .
Teens are comfortable using communication tools in the form of social media. They can feel less comfortable with direct communication and often find it hard to put their feelings into words. Using a Talking Mat when talking to teenagers provides a communication tool which takes the focus off face to face interaction. It gives a thinking space to help them to express their feelings. It also allows you to have a balanced conversation because it talks about the positive things in daily life as well as the opportunity to talk about difficult things.
Tina is a 13 year old girl who initially had coped well with the transition to High School but in February had started to refuse to come to school. She was unable to explain what the problem was and when asked about the reason for her absence, would say “ I hate school”.
The “Consulting children and Young people -secondary resource” was used to consult with Tina. She was presented with some of the options from “My body and Skills” to think about how she was feeling. Tina used the top scale Happy(Things are going well and Not happy (things are not going well).
During the Talking Mats interview she opened up about how she felt about travelling to school (she hated going on the school bus and felt embarrassed) She clearly identified the fact that she has specific learning needs as she has difficulty understanding and concentrating in class and often falls behind with her written work. Attending her maths class was particularly difficult and she did her best to avoid going. She also talked about her difficulty with talking to adults and also to her peers. Often she feels excluded in conversations as although she is listening, she doesn’t always understand what they are discussing and doesn’t know what to say. She has a problem with sleeping and feels her mood is low a lot of the time. She also commented that she can feel extremely angry and this has a negative effect on her behaviour. On the positive side, she loves to read and feels happy about her diet and her weight.
Helping Tina to grade her feelings about specific issues helped to identify what needed to be done in the first instance to get her back to school.
Alternative travel arrangements were put in place, extra support provided for her in class and from the learning support base.
She is attending school again and the pupil support team are gathering together the appropriate “team around the child” to explore her difficulties further.
Find out more about how to use Talking Mats by signing up for a training course at Talking Mats.