Talking mat helps communicate hopes and fears – a case study

Published Date: 

12 Aug 2014 - 10:44

A simple communication tool designed to help those who have survived sexual abuse, has been extended by Argyll and Bute Council into supporting adults who have learning disabilities to explain how they have suffered harm.

By introducing a visual communication aid called a talking mat, an inspired social worker has encouraged adults with learning disabilities to talk about what has happened to them, how they feel and what they would like to happen.

The council’s Policy Lead for Adult Care, Councillor Dougie Philand, said, “It is a sad but true fact that some of the most common instances involving adults who suffer harm are also people with learning disabilities – they are amongst our most vulnerable groups.  Often, too, they struggle to communicate but that barrier can be overcome by the use of visual aids. The talking mat gives a voice to those who don’t have one.”

The talking mat works simply. The mat is laid on the floor, and a collection of picture cards are used to help the individual explain what is happening to them. There are three columns of cards – the first indicating what is happening, the second for the person to express how they feel and the third to indicate what they would like to happen.

Imagine a situation involving a man who lives independently but who has learning difficulties and speech impairment. He enjoys company and is sociable and a woman befriends him.

Things turn sour, however, when the woman borrows his bus pass to travel leaving him isolated, she insists he pay when they go out for a meal and always calls round to visit on the days he receives his benefits. The woman gains control of the man and his finances in these ways. This is called financial harm and over time the man begins to dread her visits.

As a vulnerable adult the man is already know to social services who recognise his anxiety and, due to the man’s learning and speech difficulties, a social worker is inspired to use a talking mat to help communicate with him. The mat is a communication tool already in use to help sexual abuse victims.

With guidance and support the man is able to show how the woman is taking his money, that she leaves him isolated and unable to travel and that he doesn’t want the woman to come to his house.

Once the social worker understands what is happening to him she is able to work with others to make sure he is safe and his wishes respected.

If you wish to report harm which is happening to you, or if you think harm is happening to another adult, please call Argyll and Bute Council’s social work on 01546 605517. Outwith office hours please call 01631 566491 or 01631 569712.