How To Use Switches In Special Education
I think a teacher can go through their entire career and not know how to use switches in special education. Most of the time it’s not something we have easy access to, because they can be super expensive, or we inherit a room with a ton of switches just thrown in a box or scattered across the classroom. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you knew what to do with those switches? I’m going to do that by showing you how to use switches in special education.
What is a switch?
First think of a light switch, what happens when you flip it up or down? It turns the lights off or on. That’s what a switch does. It turns something on or off. Pretty easy right? We can use them for communication (like recordable switches) and we can use them to access items with wired or wireless switches.
Types of switches
There are 2 general types of switches. Contact switches and Non-contact switches.
The most common type of switch you will find is called a contact switch. These are switches that someone has to press to activate. They come in all different shapes and sizes. This is what you will use most of the time. Some are recordable, like a BIGmack or LITTLEmack, and some are wired so that you can use equipment and devices.
These are switches that are triggered without contact, like blinking or by sucking in or blowing air. I have access to an Eagle Eyes and it is a non- contact switch. It tracks a person’s eye movements with electrodes. Non-contact switches are not usually provided by school settings. Non-contact switches are usually customized for each person. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have students that use devices that track their eyes or encounter students with switches like a sip and puff switch, for instance.
Does anyone else use DLM( Dynamic Learning Maps) for alternative standards? When you set up a student accessibility profile one of the options is called switch-assisted scanning, what does that mean? Here is an example of how it works: When you use this option, you will see images on the screen (or words) and a light up box passes over each option. Next, the switch user can push their switch when whatever word or picture they want has the light up box around it. This allows a switch user to have more options than what they can access with a single push of a switch.
What do I do with these things?
I’m here to help! Switches can provide a variety of wonderful opportunities for your student. Recordable switches, like a BigMac, allow your student to participate in classroom routines. One great use is to record phrases that allow your student to say the day of the week during circle time or greet people when they enter the classroom. A student can help run your classroom business by saying “Thank you for your order” or communicate wants and needs! Kate actually talks about running a classroom ornament business here, this is the perfect situation to use a switch.
Other switches, like the ones below, allow you to connect to different kinds of technology like a computer, the smart board, adapted toys, games, adapted equipment for cooking, or any other appliance you can plug into a Powerlink! A Powerlink is a box that allows you to connect any item you can plug in (Blender, radio, fan, mixer, etc.) to a switch. The opportunities for including students are really limitless!
It’s important to remember that switches often need accessories like a power link for items that plug in or a computer switch interface to allow the switch to connect to the computer.
Where should I start?
When you are trying to decide how to use switches in special education, think about your students’ needs. Is this student not able to interact during circle time? Use a recordable switch like a BIGmack or this much cheaper alternative. Are they not able to use the computer or a smart board? Use a switch interface to connect a switch to the computer. What about leisure time? Can I connect that bubble machine to a switch so they can participate? You bet I can! I can use a powerlink. Connect the bubble machine to a powerlink. Then connect the switch to the powerlink. You can also connect a switch to an adapted toy.
Cause and Effect
When a student is first learning to use a switch you want to start with cause and effect activities. You want to teach the student that if they push/touch this weird thing something happens! Cause and effect activities are awesome for working on academic skills as well. Most importantly, we are exposing the student to the material and giving them some control. Which is awesome!
Here are some of my favorite activities to do with me my students:
- SENict: Anything from the SENict website! I know I’ve talked about them before, but it is an amazing resource. It’s free and has a ton of great resources and games to help students learn to use a switch.
- Connecting lights to the powerlink: It’s so fun to push the switch and then have a ton of colored lights light up. My students love this!
- Cooking: Connect the mixer to a powerlink and let your students mix whatever your are making!
- Bubble machine: I have a switch adapted bubble machine. It’s exciting for my students to press the switch and then see bubbles. Most importantly, it’s even more fun when they realize they are in control of the bubbles and can have as many as they want!
However you start using switches with students, it’s going to be amazing! Think of all the things your awesome student will be able to do or participate in with a switch. I hope you enjoyed learning how to use switches in the special education classroom. I really enjoyed writing it! Please let me know if you have any questions!