Visit a classroom for students with intellectual and physical disabilities, and you are likely to see a variety of switch activated toys and devices. The types of switches are as plentiful as their uses. This article explores a variety of switches, their uses, and offers several resources.
Differentiating instruction to meet the wide variety of needs presented by your students can be difficult . This may prove to be particularly challenging when working with students who have limited physical control and are non- verbal (Mechling, 2006). Such students may be limited in their abilities to interact with their environment and to express themselves (Daniels, Sparling, Reilly, & Humphry, 1995). Use of switches provides an alternative means for students to access their environments, exert control, and express themselves (Cook & Hussey, 2002). What if a student does not respond as well to single-switch activities as you would like? There may be intellectual or physical factors at play, but there are other possible explanations. Teachers may have access to only one or two toys or other switch activated devices, therefore limiting the rate of skill acquisition due to boredom by the switch user. Mechling (2006) found that students showed higher attention spans and greater frequency of switch activation when presented with a personalized computer-based switch activity.
Here are just a few ideas to “switch up” your activities.
1) (broken link) A Big-Mack or Little Mack Communicator provides two methods of feedback and reinforcement for stu- dents by delivering a single voice-output message while it also activates a toy or appliance. For example, pressing the switch could activate a small fan and say “I like to use this fan when I am hot.” Another option would be to use the switch to activate a favorite toy, while saying, “This is my favorite toy.”
2) (broken link) The Step-by-Step Communicator is a commonly used voice-output switch that allows students to use a sequence of words or phrases. There are many great uses for this simple communication device. Record a variety of greetings for a student such as “Hello”, “ How are you doing?”, or, “What’s up?”. This allows the student to initiate social interactions in different ways, as opposed to only saying “Good morning” to everyone. This device can also allow students to give instructions for craft or food preparation activities. You may also consider using the Step-by-Step Communicator with repetitive songs or activities such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
3) A third great use of a switch is to allow students to interact with activities on a computer. Single switches can be attached to a computer in a variety of ways. You may have an adapted mouse or track-ball that allows for the connection of a switch. Many (broken link) IntelliKeys keyboards allow for the inclusion of a switch. The Switch Interface Pro, available in the T-TAC ODU Library, allows for the connection of up to five single switches so students can play group games on the computer.
The keyword “switch” will yield multiple resources from the T-TAC ODU Library. Here, you will find dozens of switches and software designed for the single switch user.
There are many websites that offer a variety of free, switch-friendly activities and games. One particularly great site is Help Kidz Learn. For some great teacher-created books that can be accessed with single switches, visit The Talking Book Library.
Cook, A. M., & Hussey, S. M. (2002). Assistive technologies: Principles and practice (2nd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby. Daniels, L. E., Sparling, J. W., Reilly, M., & Humphry, R. (1995). Use of assistive technology with young children with severe and profound disabilities. Infant-toddler Intervention, 5(1), 91-112.
Mechling, L. C. (2006). Comparison of the effects of three approaches on the frequency of stimulus activations, via a single switch by students with profound intellectual disabilities. The Journal of Special Education, 40(2), 94-102.