In the first of 2 blogs on Selective Mutism, Vanessa Lloyd of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS FT describes using Talking Mats to give a young boy the opportunity to communicate at a time when talking was too hard.
Using Talking Mats with a primary school aged child with developmental Selective Mutism
Selective Mutism is a form of social anxiety characterised by stark differences in how a person communicates in different situations. There is also acute awareness of everyone around them who may be listening, either intentionally or accidentally. In Education settings Selective Mutism often become apparent at times of transition and teachers often describe a very different child to the one a parent knows at home. As a school therapist I have the job of finding the puzzle pieces and bringing them together in a way that home and school can understand. I have found the Talking Mats approach to be very useful when working in this area. Here’s an example;
I recently took a referral for ‘A’ who is 6 years old:
Main points from school:
- Joined 12months ago
- Not spoken at school in those 12 months
- Staff felt they didn’t know him
- Staff assumed he was happy not joining in
Main points from parents:
- Aware he is quiet in school
- This is who he is and he has been like this since starting Nursery
My observations indicated Selective Mutism;
- his body language indicated anxiety in situations where he was expected to speak or interact
I needed a way to feedback this anxiety to staff and for A to be heard without using his voice. After building a rapport with him I introduced Talking Mats and offered him the opportunity to engage
Using the Primary Communication Rating Scale (Johnson & Wintgens, 2016) as a basis, combined with an image system he was familiar with, I planned the symbols needed to support the conversation and set out the expectations for the activity. Fundamentally, I made it clear that he did not have to talk to me to participate.
How it went
The school environment.
As anticipated, he made his feelings instantly clear about the activities where he was required to talk, rapidly sorting them into ‘unsure’ or ‘don’t like’.
What was less expected was how relaxed his body language became, particularly when I suggested showing his class teacher. It was as though he knew that there was some power behind his arrangement of these symbols and he was ready to embrace it.
Talking at home.
Having fully grasped the potential of the task, this young boy set to work answering my questions through careful consideration and placement of symbols. The same questions that would otherwise spiral him into a freeze or flee response were now being answered with a newfound command of the situation. He had things to say, things he wanted people to know, and in that moment, he had a way of doing this
Taking it forward:
Showing the child’s perspective provided a powerful way of highlighting to school the misguided assumptions that had been made about his feelings and attitudes towards talking. The Talking Mat conversations opened the discussion about the importance of Selective Mutism intervention and created a platform for the child to be involved and be heard. He was a valued contributor in an environment which was previously inaccessible for him.
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!
Youth Justice Research
How can Talking Mats be used in youth justice research? I am a clinical psychology doctoral student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. My doctoral research is an evaluation of communication assistance in our youth justice system. Communication assistance is New Zealand’s version of the England and Wales intermediary scheme. I used a Talking Mat framework to help understand young people’s experiences of working with a communication assistant.
I first learnt about Talking Mats in 2017 when I attended a workshop on enabling effective communication with children and young people run by Talking Trouble Aotearoa New Zealand (www.talkingtroublenz.org). I have since attended Talking Mats training in New Zealand and have regularly used Talking Mats in my previous work as an intern psychologist at a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. I have found them to be an effective way for children and young people to express themselves. They have been especially helpful for young people with whom I am struggling to build rapport, and who only give the odd shrug, nod or head shake to questions asked. I also like the additional information that comes from how the young person places the cards. I remember one teenager boy, for example, who threw down “teacher” and “school” under “things not going well”.
In my doctoral research, I was interested to know what tools or strategies used by communication assistants were helpful or unhelpful. I created 17 picture cards of resources commonly used by communication assistants, such as a laptop, post-it notes and a stress ball. The young person was able to sort these cards into piles, “Yes”, “Don’t Know” or “No” to indicate which ones had been used in their youth justice process(es). The young person then sorted the “Yes” pile under three top cards or headings, “Helpful”, “Don’t Know” and “Unhelpful”. This second Talking Mat was then a starting point for further conversation and some simple off “off the mat” questions.
Again, in my research, the Talking Mats framework provided a way for young people with communication difficulties to let me know their opinion. It helped me to build rapport with young people I had not met before and it took some of the intensity out of the interaction by giving us a shared point of focus. I really appreciated being able to hear young people’s thoughts on communication assistance and the Talking Mats framework (as well as some other visual aids and strategies) allowed this to happen.
You can read more about this research and the findings on my website https://kellyhoward2.wixsite.com/youthjustice or in a recent article in the Youth Justice journal, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1473225420923763
Thanks to Kelly Howard for writing this blog about her interesting research . We are always delighted to hear where Talking Mats is making an impact and it has more and more uses in youth justice . If you are working in youth justice then take advantage of our current on line training offer Training Order Form – 30% Discount. You will not regret it . Plus, watch this space we are currently working with a youth justice organisation and developing a Talking Mats to support conversations in this setting…
What do the young people I work with think and feel about returning to school after lockdown? I am a Speech and Language Therapist working within the Learning Centre at the Donaldsons Trust in Linlithgow. I work with young people with a variety of communication needs and although the Learning Centre was closed for a short period, we re-opened a few weeks ago to provide continuity for our young people who all have additional needs. Given the current situation, many changes having been put into place to ensure the safety of the staff and children in these unprecedented times. This has included children coming in part-time and on different days from some of their peers and a designated staff team for each group of children. For some children the changes have also meant that their parents now drop them to school rather than coming in a taxi and they have their temperatures taken on arrival. The children now see some staff wearing PPE and they are asked to socially distance from those in their class. They have all coped incredibly well, adapting and accepting these ‘new normals’. As a team we have tried hard to make the transition back into the Learning Centre as relaxed as possible as many of our young people find change difficult to manage.
Prior to lockdown I was almost finished my foundation Talking Mats course and was about to submit my video assessment. Lockdown meant that this did not go ahead as planned. On returning to work, I felt a Talking Mat would be a perfect way of exploring the children’s feelings and opinions about the changes that they have been faced with both at home and within the Learning Centre. I printed symbols which I felt were the most relevant for the current situation and this included symbols such as ‘socially distancing’, ‘having temperature taken’, ‘coming to school in the car with mum and dad’, ‘staff wearing masks’ and ‘friends coming on different days’ I used the top scale of ‘this is working well ’ – ‘I’m ok with this’- ‘this isn’t working well’. I completed the mat with one of our pupils as part of my video assessment, but the aim is to complete with all of the young people within the Learning Centre over the next few weeks.
The outcome from the completed mat was very helpful .Using Talking Mats allowed me to gather information in a clear way that I would not have been able to do otherwise. The framework allowed for improved understanding of the questions presented as well as a clear and visual way to indicate responses. I feel that having the Talking Mat as a tool has been a wonderful resource to gather the opinions of the young people in order to make sure that we are minimising any anxieties that they may be feeling. We hugely value and respect the opinions of our young people and allowing them a means of sharing their opinions about what is happening around them, through the use of Talking Mats, has been invaluable.
Thanks to Kirsten Lamb for her helpful blog describing how she used Talking Mats to help the young people express their views about adjusting to the new normal . If you want to develop your Talking Mats skills like Kirsten then take advantage of the reduced training during lockdown. Training Order Form – 30% Discount
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 Jenny Trott for our new guest blog about her interview with Talking Mats Director, Lois Cameron – Jenny’s video provides some great information about the Talking Mats approach and our original and digital resources:
A year ago I started my YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/jennytrott) as a way of supporting parents and carers with information and inspiration. As a parent of a disabled child myself I knew that one of the best ways to find out things is from other parents, and YouTube was just a different and new way to do that. To date I have published nearly 50 films about subjects ranging from Self Directed Support to Rebound therapy, and including interviews with parents, professionals and disabled people.
Quite early on I knew that I wanted to make a film about Talking Mats. I had used Talking Mats when I worked with people living with dementia, and I knew that my son’s school were using them too. I had seen the benefits of this innovative communication tool but I also knew that many parents and carers didn’t really understand it because they hadn’t been given the right information.
Lois was kind enough to agree to join me in front of the camera, so in April I visited Talking Mats in Stirling with my tripods, microphones and cameras. It can be a bit daunting interviewing someone I’ve not met before but Lois instantly put me at ease and had the great idea of demonstrating a Mat rather than just talking about it. It was so interesting, experiencing using a Mat first hand and it helped to show the viewers what Talking Mats is really about.
You can view the video here: https://youtu.be/Fmyt1fE-_U8
The feedback from the film has been great, both from professionals, parent carers and SLT students; lots of lightbulb moments; “ah, now I get it”!
I am still making films but less frequently as I am now also setting up a social enterprise, Mecoco (www.mecoco.org) here in North Ayrshire. We’ll be offering work experience and volunteering opportunities to disabled people to work alongside us making candles and melts. I am sure Talking Mats will be invaluable in our workshop!
If you’d like to find out more about accessing Talking Mats training take a look here- https://www.talkingmats.com/training/ – we offer a range of options including online, and bespoke training for organisations, as well as advanced courses and specialist seminars for those who have already accessed Talking Mats Foundation Training.
Many thanks to Joan Murphy, our Talking Mats Founder, for this great blog sharing Jeppe Forchhammer’s thoughts about the importance of social communication – communicating ‘offline’ – for AAC users:
I met Jeppe Forchhammer at the 2019 ISAAC Conference in Denmark. We had an interesting conversation about the importance of social communication for AAC users and he kindly sent me this presentation and gave me permission to write a blog about his views.
Here are a few quotes from Jeppe but it is well worth reading his whole presentation
We have reached a time where communication systems become more and more electronic. I have noticed that children who need AAC ie augmented and alternative communication are starting more and more early. This I would like to question! In this lecture I will try to explain, why I think it is better to teach the children to use their body first. In order first to get direct communication relation to another person.
I think it is most important for an AAC user first to learn to interact with another person face to face. This is of course important for all infants in particular if they don’t have a spoken language. I think the eyes begins naturally to take over and the baby begin to communicate. At least I began to observe what happened around me using my eyes by watching things around me. In this way I began early to take contact with people around me.
I am afraid that AAC users in the future will lose some of their abilities to communicate with their body or facial expression. Especially if one starts too early. I think there is a risk that the child get blinkers and we have the risk that the child will be introvert. This might give the child some social problems if it doesn´t learn to use and read the body.
We must remember that a good relation is created face to face and not through a Speech Generating Device.
If they only communicate through their speech generating computer they may miss the face to face communication.
Many thanks to Jeppe for his thoughtful and stimulating comments.
If you would like to contact him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The importance of social and non-verbal communication is highlighted in our Talking Mats training courses. If you are interested in accessing this training take a look at our options here – https://www.talkingmats.com/training/