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Not All Switch Toys are Equal

Ania Ciechanowski

Ania Ciechanowski

Senior Clinician Occupational Therapist – Assistive...

Our library, until recently, has generally had toys that operated in a similar way. They were adapted so you could connect one switch.

When connected, the switch acted in a ‘momentary’ way. Like a keyboard key, the ‘action’ only happened while the switch/key is being pressed. If you wanted to keep the action going, you needed to keep the switch pressed. This provided strong feedback for learning that the switch was causing the action to happen. If you stopped pressing the switch, the action stopped. A perfect opportunity for using communication systems to comment, request and complain!

Bubble machine with switch attached.

We could also attach Action Modifiers such as Switch latch and Timers between the switch and the toy. These are great resources for a therapy toolkit when working with switch toys. Many children cannot hold down a switch for long enough to get the joy of a hundred bubbles blowing in the air or a toy walking across the floor or singing a line of a song.

Toy cow with switch latch and timer connected to a red button switch.

One of the functions of a Switch Latch and Timer is being able to set a ‘play’ time e.g. 5 seconds. The child can touch and release the switch and the bubbles will blow for 5 seconds before stopping and more commenting, complaining, requesting.

Some of our new toys will play through their whole repertoire of songs with a single momentary switch press which is great for free leisure time, but less of an opportunity for interaction or use in therapy. Others seem to work in a latched mode – like a light switch – you press once to turn on and then you need to press again to turn off. Others do not respond to the timer settings of a Switch Latch and Timer.

How you want your switch adapted toy to operate will depend on your goals. If hiring/loaning purchasing, it is worth talking to the supplier to ask about how the toy works with the switch. For example, if I press the switch, does the toy turn on and stay on only while I’m pressing the switch (direct/momentary action); does it stay on (until it runs through all of its actions) or does each subsequent press of the switch changes the action e.g. changes the song or turn it on and off?

Switch adapted elephant connected to a red and green switch.

Some toys with multiple actions will have connectors for multiple switches e.g. one for songs, one for talking, one for a physical action. We have one toy that has 4 cables hanging out of its back – the most engaging activity is the songs the toy sings, so we’ve colour coded that cable for speed and sanity!

If you would like to make a referral to explore switch options for your client, you can make a referral to our ComTEC Occupational Therapists. They can demonstrate the different switch options and help you work out some appropriate options for your client.

If you know what you want and you would like to hire some switch toys with switches and / or switch interfaces for your client, you can request a hire from our library.

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