Developing Switch Skills

Posted 24th July 2018

Switch control

Users with severe physical disabilities or profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) find it very difficult to control their environment. They are denied many of the early learning and interactive experiences other children have. By combining a switch with a simple access solution, users can exert control over equipment that they would otherwise find impossible to operate for themselves.
What device to control?

When choosing devices make sure that the equipment chosen is normally operated by a basic on/off switch - more complex or radio-controlled devices cannot always be readily adapted. Other equipment, such as simple, battery operated tape recorders or radios are easy to adapt.

Some children find it relatively easy to understand the cause and effect relationship between holding the switch and the device being activated. Others will require a longer period and a lot of encouragement to enable them to develop the necessary physical and kinetic skills to operate the device.

Control options

Adaptors and interfaces are available that allow the user to control both a battery powered device and mains powered device with switch access.

Battery Powered Devices

To provide activities users can control, it has become common to use simple, battery operated toys and other devices which can be adapted for switch use. A Battery Switch Adaptor allows the user to do this, by placing the battery adaptor lead inside the battery compartment and then connecting the switch.

Mains Powered Devices

Mains control units such as the Powerlink or Inclusive Click-On 2, allow switches to be used to control electrical devices, providing additional experiences. For example, a child can take part in a cookery session by using a switch to turn on and off a food mixer: lights and fans can be connected giving more dramatic and appropriate rewards for older people. By using 'real' equipment, children feel that the switch operation is more important.

Timer Control

It is important at this early stage of switch operation to carefully consider the type of switch skills that the child will need to develop for future use. When used without a timer device, toys such as tape recorders or cars will operate only as long as the switch is held down. This may not always be desirable as the skill that is required for future switch use generally involves being able to press and release the switch at will.

A timer unit such as the it-Control will activate the device for a pre-set period with a brief press of the switch. At the end of the pre-set amount of time the timer turns the device off and the child must reactivate it by pressing the switch again. This encourages the understanding that brief presses are needed to make something happen.

Battery timers provide a range of activities allowing toys to be controlled in a variety of ways, so the child can take part in different activities. For example, the child can control a story on tape for the rest of the class or play music for a game of musical statues.