Talking Mats

Posted by editor 04/06/2013 0 Comment 4273 views


The young man stares at the mat in front of him. There are three columns on the mat representing: things he’s coping well with; things that are going okay; and things he’s struggling with. He is given a card denoting ‘spare time’ and is asked to place it in the most appropriate column. He ponders for a bit, and plumps for the ‘things he’s struggling with’ column.

“So that’s something you are having difficulty with?” he is asked, to which he vaguely nods his head. “You need more things to do?” This time he is certain, “Yeah.”

With the next card, ‘house work’, he confidently, and proudly, pops it straight in the ‘things he’s doing well’ column.

This is the genius of Talking Mats encapsulated in a pleasing moment of progress. Ian is in rehab from a cerebral haemorrhage and is struggling with his speech. Talking Mats, a symbols -based framework for communicating on issues concerning him, is facilitating the expression of any worries or successes he may be experiencing.

Developed since 1998, Talking Mats was initiated by Dr Joan Murphy (left in the picture), later joined by Lois Cameron (pictured), both speech therapy clinicians who have over the years developed the system at Stirling University which is now an award-winning social enterprise serving customers in Europe and the UK.

“Our mission is to get communication disability taken seriously because communication is fundamental to good-quality care,” says Cameron affirmatively. “Talking Mats has evolved to become genuine thinking tool used by anyone working with people with communication impairment: social workers, care workers, teachers, therapists and advocacy people.”

Thus Talking Mats’ business has developed into an important training piece, helping others develop mats  for their particular needs. The mats have attracted a big following, with a significant portion of their customers coming from Scandinavia.

“We started out working with people who had speech difficulties but actually now work with a wide variety of people,” says Cameron. “We have recently hooked up with a housing association who will be working with individuals whose language and thinking skills are compromised through a whole variety of reasons: self-esteem issues, paucity of language skill or second language issues.

The mats have even made a big leap into the careers department of the ever-supportive Stirling Uni, who have begun using the mats to talk students through their career options post-graduation, recognising that it is a difficult subject for some students to consider.

They have recently received a loan from Big Issue Invest to further their ambitions in terms of marketing and even to develop a digital offering. “Talking Mats helps people help themselves, an aim we share at The Big Issue,” says Nigel Kershaw, CEO of Big Issue Invest and Chairman of The Big Issue Group, “we are delighted to be working with them.”

Talking Mats will be serving up a ‘digital mat’ available to use on a number of platforms, and as the applications for Talking Mats broaden, they will be able to help as many people as possible.

The social enterprise business was created in 2011 when the university encouraged the duo to take their system to market and quickly won a Best Start-Up award from Social Enterprise Scotland. But it is the small victories, not the awards, that obviously please Cameron the most. She tells the story of someone who went to visit a relative with dementia.

“She took a Talking Mat and was amazed how focused her relative became on the mat,” says Cameron. “They ended up having a really nice half hour together… really it can be used to work out where people are going (in their lives) or just to have a conversation.”

It’s good to talk, they say, but Talking Mats proves it’s basic communication that is key.



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