Switching systems will enable the student to turn electrical appliances on and off via switches, which are designed to accommodate many physical demands. These systems offer more than simple on/off operation; the system presents the student with the opportunity to gain control and autonomy. Many systems are now radio controlled, so there is no lead between the switch and the controller. In addition to this, radio systems are not directional, so the student does not have to point the switch in the direction of the controller.
When used for basic cause and effect skills, the system may offer the student their first experience of control. In the initial stages, it is always important to find something the student wants, as it would not mean the student couldn’t operate the switch if they simply chose not to do so! You must also select the correct switch and set it in the right position to allow the student to accomplish the task.
A projector connected to a switch system could be the first thing to try. I would suggest that you set the controller to the ‘latched’ mode of operation. This enables the student to press the switch and then let go, the projector will remain on so enabling the student to concentrate on the effect they have just discovered without continued pressure on the switch. Later try ‘momentary’, which requires the student to keep the pressure on the switch to keep the projector on.
Beyond basic cause and effect, the student can begin to refine and generalise their competence gained to other equipment in other settings. Communication is the key to control, and switch systems will offer the student and practitioners the opportunity to accomplish many communication activities. Turn-taking within story sessions, for example, switching the music on at the correct time is a wonderful way to empower students in an inclusive setting.
Reselecting the switch to trigger the bubble tube will enable the student to demonstrate an understanding of intention. Choosing between a ‘live’ and a ‘dummy’ switch will have the same effect. Two switches connected to two appliances will enable the student to start making real choices. They may be gaining the prerequisite skills to enable future use of computers or voice communication aids. Switching systems enable the student to gain independence and self-esteem, opening up a world of opportunity both in and out of the multisensory room.
Make sure the system will do what you want. Does it need to be fixed or portable? Keep the switch simple. Make sure you know how to use the system. Don’t make the operation too hard or repetitive.