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Switch Adapting, Why Learn?

Shoshannah (Shosh) Newman is a special educator in NYC. She has collaborated over the years with the Adaptive Design Association but had enough free time to participate in an Introduction to Switches and Electronics course while transitioning to a new teaching position. Shosh always knew it was possible to order switch adapted toys and other adaptive electronics for her students but never imagined how accessible the techniques would be, allowing her to take on some projects herself.


Shosh shares on her social media, "I learned how to make battery interrupters, splice a wire to add a jack so that the toy can be controlled with a switch and built a really cool adapted control for a remote control car," in hopes of motivating other special educators to take advantage of the unique learning opportunity offered at Adaptive Design.



As a special educator, it is her job to carefully observe her students to understand what motivates each student's learning. Understanding cause and effect is a primary learning objective for many of her students. Shosh discovered that one of her students really enjoys the classroom fan. She then explored how she could switch adapt the fan so her student can control the on and off switch. With the accessible switch positioned on her student's tray, it puts the authority to turn the fan on and off in her hands.


Here are some samples of adapted toys with switch accessibility she has used in her practice:

Shosh shares:


One of the most difficult things I have found with my students is finding “age-appropriate” activities that are also cognitively appropriate. Most of the toys that are cognitively appropriate for my students are not age-appropriate and vice versa. When I sat down and thought of activities that can meet both areas of appropriateness, “cooking,” and “computer games” were the first two things that came to mind.


I took a closer look at cooking, - asking myself:


1) what could my students do to aid in the cooking process that would be fun and educational?


2) what activities are the most difficult to do hand-over-hand?


I felt mixing/stirring could be done hand over hand because the bowl could be on their tray, and one adult could hold the bowl, and the other could manipulate the students’ hands. Additionally, since stretching and reaching is an activity the therapist do with my students, I felt that the moving of the students’ arms while stirring the ingredients could be a good physical activity. I thought that the students could activate kitchen appliances, like a blender or a hand mixer, but I didn’t know how to switch adapt electrical items other than a PowerLink, which are expensive. This left me with pouring the ingredients into the mixing bowls, which is an activity that can be difficult to do hand-over-hand with students’ who have very little muscles and arm control. After conducting a quick internet search, I found a store-bought pouring device and once I knew there was a store-bought option out there I figured there had to be a DIY option. With a little more exploring I found instructions for one on the internet and set out to make one.  This device allowed my students to participate in cooking activities. The students were excited when they saw the cup begin to move and were extremely excited when they heard the content spill into the bowl. They also worked on taking turns and on making sure that they left the activity ready for the next student to use it (i.e. they had to continue to hold the switch until the cup was returned to its upright position) or if a student was struggling to activate the switch to move the cup to its starting position, it allowed their friend to help them out and to finish hitting the switch for them.





Second, I thought about how could I make “computer games” accessible to my students? I knew that there were many simple cause and effect games so finding games, so finding cognitively appropriate games wouldn’t be difficult. However, to play these games, I had to figure out a way to hook up a switch to a computer. I have heard about a “switch interface,” which connects standard switches to a computer with a USB. Switch interfaces can be expensive and I did not have access to one. After taking a closer look at the games, I noticed that one of the options for playing it was “mouse.” This told me that I could use a computer mouse to play these games using the right-click button. I had a “broken” mouse; the mouse's inside was fine, but the case was broken. I opened up the mouse, removed the inside of it, and switch adapted the right-click button to use with an external switch, and place it inside a small plastic box.


Shosh shares, "Adaptive Design has had an immensely positive impact on my career, and I am thankful for all they have taught me. Adaptive Design has armed me with the basic skills of adaptation, the confidence to try adapting new and unfamiliar toys, the knowledge that nothing is impossible. They continue to be a great resource and partner."