Tag Archives: talking mats

More choice and control at dinner time

How do people make a choice when they can only accept or reject what’s offered? That’s the problem some people living in residential facilities with little or no speech can face.

It may help if staff ask questions, such as “Would you like sausages? or “Would you like chicken?” But that’s only two choices. And the person has to know what the words mean and have a way to indicate yes or no. That’s hard for some people.

It can be easier if there are pictures to choose from.

It can be even easier – and more empowering – if the pictures are used with Talking Mats ®

Many options can be explored and a person can have a record of all the preferences they’ve identified. (That’s why Talking Mats is also a great planning tool!)

Dietitians at Bendigo Health wanted a way for people with communication disabilities living in the community to have more food choices, including the healthy ones! They wanted people with communication disabilities to have their choices heard by the people supporting them at home.

In partnership with the Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service, the dietitians developed a set of Talking Mats with photos of many different food options.

The Bendigo Health Food Preferences Talking Mats kit:

Food preferences Talking mats pack

In Talking Mats, each card shows a picture of a different item.  A person places their preferred items on the left and non-preferred items on the right. Items without a strong preference go in between.

There are 9 sets of cards in the Bendigo Health kit. They are: snacks, vegetables, cereals, takeaway, drinks, meat & alternative, fruit, dairy and exercise.

Here’s how one person completed her Talking Mat about her meat/alternatives preferences:

Example of a talking mat showing meat and meat alternatives

Some of these may be foods she had not thought of – or ones she had not been able to ask for.

Having her own photos of her mats mean she can communicate her food choices and have more variety in what she eats.

[We used the header cards (which were user tested) with permission from Talking Mats https://www.talkingmats.com/ It is well worth a visit for resources and more information about Talking Mats.



Value our volunteers: equipping them with the tools to engage people in local communities

As a student Speech Pathologist one of the many aspects of my placement with the eastern regional communication access network was to present at training workshops for community volunteers. The first training session was for community volunteers in the south-eastern region and the second training session was for community visitors who visit people with disabilities in residential housing and advocate for their needs if they can’t speak up for themselves.


Key Word Sign training

The first training session involved volunteers from varying cultures and backgrounds. Some volunteers were working with people with disabilities on a regular basis and wanting to learn more strategies to improve effective communication. The others in the training worked with a range of people from those with mental health issues to people who were socially isolated. The content of the training included practical strategies for improved communication with people with communication difficulties, an explanation and discussion of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and an introduction to the communication access symbol and what it represents.

Many people were also very interested in key word sign and what it is and learnt some helpful signs too! The volunteers were shown different AAC devices including low tech, paper based devices as well as some electronic AAC devices. There was a lot of interest surrounding the different devices and what were the possibilities with someone using these devices.


Listening to Those Rarely Heard is a training package designed to guide supporters of people with severe to profound disability through the supported decision-making process.

The second training was for community advocates who were eager and enthusiastic to be given the training opportunity and therefore keen to learn new information. All of the advocates visit people with disabilities in their homes regularly. Many are individuals with severe intellectual disabilities where determining their preferences and concerns is very difficult. The presentation included an overview of communication, an introduction to supported decision making (Watson, 2013) and introduction to the concept of “Talking Mats” (Joan Murphy) as a potential tool for people who would benefit from structured conversation.

This group had indicated they would like to use a tool to gauge an individual’s situation and concerns so they could be better at advocating for the person. They were interested in how structured conversation may be a way of discussing meaningful topics that may require advocacy (e.g. living  arrangements, diet, activities).

These volunteers had an impressive understanding of how their client’s communicate and explained how they were able to differentiate between subtle differences in vocalisations, facial expressions or body language. The training was very well received and they were keen on doing further training particularly in applying Talking Mats to specific clients who may be able to use it and benefit from more detailed discussion around how they wanted their life to be.


Talking Mats in action

All the volunteers responded with positive feedback and were very happy to have upskilled their abilities. It was very encouraging to know that there are very competent people willing to volunteer their time and who are eager and willing to be a part of change for individuals and their communities.

By Bethany Simons                               Supervised by Bron Jones
Student Speech Pathologist                Eastern Regional Communication Access Network

Watson, J. (2013). Listening to those rarely heard: Supported decision making in this brave new world of individualised services. Paper presented at the 11th Biennial AGOSCI conference, Sydney, Australia.

Talking Mats – a resource to enhance communication

Three speech pathologists from the Communication Access Network recently completed their Foundation Training for Talking Mats. Talking Mats is a tool that provides a framework to help people communicate more effectively.

The concept of Talking Mats is deceptively simple. It is a low tech resource which is easy to use with people who can read or recognise pictures. The communication partner or “listener” uses a mat as an aid. Along the top of the mat, pictures are used to represent a continuum or visual scale. This allows the participant to indicate their feelings about topics and options. The scale is adapted to suit the questions being asked for example, whether they “like”, “are not sure” or “don’t like” something or someone. Once a topic is chosen eg. “activities” or “people”, the participant is given options one at a time and asked to think about what they feel about each one. The symbol options are presented as pictures, photos or words. The participant then places the symbol somewhere along the visual scale to indicate what they feel.

The challenge in using Talking Mats is in selecting the right visual scale and considering all the vocabulary needed to address the chosen topic area. During the training, “listeners” are taught how to use mind mapping to generate vocabulary around particular topic areas.

Talking Mats will be a great resource for helping people to plan and to determine priorities for life goals and activities – particularly with the roll out of the NDIS. Use of a Talking Mat focuses the participant’s attention and reduces memory demands. It also allows the person time to process information and to respond in his or her own time. It improves the quality of information because it gives control to the person being interviewed and provides a structured framework for open questions. And it allows for the personalisation of information relating to relevant and important life issues.

Talking Mats graduates

Talking Mats graduates; Bronwen Jones, Libby Brownlie & Karen Bloomberg

Karen Bloomberg, Bronwen Jones and Libby Brownlie undertook the inaugural Foundation Training Course run by Tracey Bode at Zyteq. Tracey currently is the only qualified Talking Mats facilitator in Australia. Tracey and her colleagues at Talking Mats in Scotland are hoping to grow the facilitator base in Australia.

Further Foundation Training is available through Zyteq.


There will also be a Talking Mats pre-conference Foundation workshop at the 2017 AGOSCI Conference offered by Lois Cameron, one of the founders of Talking Mats from Scotland.


When people have completed a Foundation Course they may be considered for the 3-day facilitator workshop developing the skills needed to teach the Foundation Course training package.

By Karen Bloomberg