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Fun Switch and Low Tech Activities!


Fun Switch and Low Tech Activities!

by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP, on the AT and OT Blog      




As an experienced OT that specializes in Assistive Technology (AT), I often get asked about fun and new ways to use those extra ability switches or switch toys that are just sitting around and cluttering up closets to help students or clients with disabilities participate fully in their home, school, or community environments.  Here are a few of my favorite and/or newer products or ideas to use with those developmentally young clients of any age who need access to switch accessible or easy activities.  Switches allow students or clients with significant disabilities to practice cause-and-effect skills, be active participants in their classrooms or programs, and be afforded recreational and play benefits.  They encourage and facilitate great language opportunities while helping to prevent learned helplessness.


Gears! Gears! Gears!


If You Build It, They Will Come:  Tag team with building sets by having a child with a disability pair up with a peer or sibling in order to play with a new range of switch adapted toy building sets, such as the marble maze building set from Enabling Devices or Gears! from Adaptive Tech Solutions.



Party Hearty!  Let the person with the disability be the life of the party by operating the fog machine, black light, disco or holiday lights, air hockey table, karaoke machine, or CD player with a Powerlink from Ablenet.  Or consider the use of a new, wireless Appliance Control from Flaghouse available at a very reasonable cost (operates up 100 feet away indoors or out).


Jazz It Up!  Dress up those old plush switch toys to reflect the seasons or classroom units.  For example, attach a hat for a scarecrow, doll clothes for holidays, or accessories for community helpers.  Have a walking switch toy ‘race’ with two students both operating their own switch toy or have the walking toy knock over bowling pins or milk cartons for some great cause-and-effect fun!  Attach a sight word, picture, or number to the walking switch toy on a notecard and “deliver” it to the teacher or a buddy.


Feeling Groovy:  Try adding some multisensory stimulation at home or school with visual and auditory inputs using one of the dual-purpose light and sound machines from Enabling Devices such as the Ocean Wave Light.   (It is iPod and MP3 compatible for music as well.)  Try out the new color changing mood lamps such as this one from Amazon that has a Powerlink.


Game Night Fun:  Who doesn’t love to play games?  You can encourage participation by the student or client with a disability by including games that are adapted for use with switches.  Examples for playing games with all ages include bingo, Catchphrase, or a dice roller from Enabling Devices, or a playing card shuffler from Adaptive Tech Solutions.

Switch Accessible Bingo Video


Infrared Ideas!  Don’t forget that clients that use some brands of “higher tech” augmentative communication (AAC) devices may have integrated infrared capabilities to operate items in their environment including infrared toys such as remotes or lights.  This is a powerful and motivating way to learn language and to control their environment.  Ask your speech language pathologist (SLP) or vendor for more information or refer to product specifications which list “IR” for infrared controls.  Here is an article from ATMac that describes a variety of ways to enable an iPhone or iPad to control infrared devices as well.


Hold on There!  Place bump-and-go switch-operated toys within confined areas such as a toy pen, hula hoop, box lid, or giant Frisbee turned upside down. This helps your students to contain the toy visually as well as physically to keep it within their reach.


Getting Smart with Your Smartboard!  There are many wireless switch and joystick options that are easy to connect to your classroom Smart/Whiteboard for use with a wide variety of needs such as the Inclusive Technology wireless joystick.  While the students can use the switch to “right-click” to turn the page of a book or PowerPoint presentation, there are also many great, free online resources for switch accessible fun. For example, Priory Woods is one of the popular early learning software sites as well as Jacob’s Lessons developed by a father of a child with autism.  Another excellent resource for online switch games and activities that would work well with Smartboards is from Glenda’s AT Information and More site.


Priory Woods Online Switch Screen Shot


 IOS Switch App Options:  Switch accessible apps are becoming more available for IOS devices that are not augmentative communication apps.  Inclusive Technology has quite a few (38 apps, 3 of which are free as well as many Android options) and a free 60-page booklet “Switch Progression Road Map.”  Also consider these very easy to operate “almost” switch accessible apps:  PictureBuild, Magic Fingers, Draw Stars!, Balls, Peek a Zoo (series), and Balls. The most extensive and best listing of these types of apps for 2015 is from Jane Farrall, SLP.

All-Turn-It Spinners

My Turn!  Grab your All-Turn-It Spinners from Ablenet and get busy.

These devices are great random selection choices for empowering the person with the disability to choose a name for centers or class chores, to randomly select songs or books, or to play games such as dice, drawing and coloring games, or communicating in general by making comments. These random choices are enabled by drawing or placing the students’ names, numbers, or words on the dry-erase overlay.   Glenda’s AT provides a great resource regarding activities for the All-Turn-It Spinner.  Pinterest has tons of great dice and/or drawing games, such as this cute Roll and Draw a Penguin resource from the  Teaching Heart Blog.



I hope you have found some ideas you hadn’t thought of or that may make you want to upcycle those extra or older switches or switch toys that you may not have used in a bit.  I would love to hear some of your favorite and innovative ways that you use switch activities in your settings!



Molly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and  currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989.  She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program.  You can connect with Molly on Twitter sitePinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.

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