Some children are physically unable to play with or manipulate toys but are able to activate a toy with a switch. Switches come in many shapes and sizes.
Many toys and battery operated devices are available that are adapted for use with a switch. A child can learn cause and effect by turning the toy on and off or can use it to participate in play in the classroom with his/her peers: using the school bus toy to knock down a stack of blocks in the block area!
Any battery operated device can be used with a switch by using a "battery device adapter" placed in the battery compartment.
A switch latch and timer allows even more control over the device by featuring modes of control. In latch mode, one touch of the switch turns the device on while another touch turns it off. In timed mode, a single touch of the switch turns the device on for a set amount of time, then turns off automatically. Contact the Pre-K SPED Tech Team for more information about using these modes of control for students with physical limitations.
Some children will have difficulty grasping tools for play, writing, or self feeding. Grasping tools such as splints, cuffs, or straps may help hold the tool in a child's grasp so they can concentrate on using it functionally. An occupational therapist can be of great assistance in choosing one that is right for a child with a physical disability.
Many toys can be purchased with larger, easier to grasp pieces such as puzzles. Toys can be adapted for easier grasping by adding Velcro to help small pieces stick together with a minimum of effort, EX: stacking blocks. Some toy pieces "disappear" within a child's fist when grasped with a palmar grasp, EX: puzzle pieces or squeezie toys. Adding a handle (with hot glue or velcro) lets the child grasp the toy easier while making it visible for play. Materials that make good handles include:
There are a number of ways to stabilize toys for children with physical disabilities. Commercially available mounts, like the Slim Armstrong mount from AbleNet, hold switches in a secure position. And "low tech" ideas include: homemade PVC mounts, C-clamps, velcro, bungee cords, etc. The objective is to stabilize the toy within the child's reach and make it easier to manipulate.
Additionally, we can use surfaces that prevent materials from slipping out of reach. These "low tech" solutions can be used throughout the daily routine. Dycem is a flat sticky plastic that can be placed on a work surface and materials can be placed on top of it. Use it to grip paper in the art area, plates and cups at the lunch table, the tea set in the house area...whatever you need.
A simple square of indoor-outdoor carpet (very inexpensive at home improvement stores) can become a great gripping play surface. WHY? Because Velcro sticks to it! So any toy with a spot of rough Velcro on its bottom will stay put on the carpet piece.
The All-Turn-It spinner provides students with opportunities to interact with their peers in a variety of classroom activities. The All-Turn-It spinner can be used alone or with a switch. Activating the All-Turn-It enables random selections and is perfect for playing games, taking turns and making random selections. Blank overlays are easily customized to many classroom activities. For a whole day's worth of ideas.
Environmental control units allow switch operation of electrical devices. They are powerful tools for children who use switches to participate in MANY daily activities at school or at home.
Just think of the possibilities:
Adapted tricycles are available for children who cannot support themselves in a safe sitting position on a moving tricycle or who are learning to locomote on a trike but need help. Many of these children are the ones who need to experience movement through space and to increase independent play. A physical therapist can suggest a tricycle that gives adequate support for a child.
Adapted swings are available for children who cannot support themselves in a safe sitting position on a moving swing. Many of these children are the ones who need to experience the movement and relaxation that swinging offers. A physical therapist can suggest a swing that gives adequate support for a child.
The computer is a great tool for learning for all students but it can be an essential tool for independent play for a child with a physical disability that interferes with play. Many programs are available that are accessible with a switch or an adapted keyboard for children who cannot use a standard keyboard or mouse.
Programs for use with a switch are simple and fun, like this one, Single Switch Software for Preschoolers. With every click of the switch the bubblegum bubble gets bigger and bigger until it pops!
Another great program is Intellipics that allows teachers to build activities according to the needs and interests of particular students. The Pre-K SPED Tech Team has a large collection of these activities that can be used with a switch or the Intellikeys adaptive keyboard.