However, many such 'switches' are of limited use educationally, because once the student has learned to operate them, there is little flexibility for the teacher to develop the skill. Much of the space in this booklet will be devoted to the types of switch which are devised for the educational programme. We shall be looking at this sort of question : "Now Mandy has discovered how to press this pad switch and produce the light effect, how can I get her to generalise that skill, and make choice or turn a door handle?"
Commercial Switches and Switching Systems
I shall be concentrating mainly, but not exclusively, upon the commercial switching systems. What are these? I shall go into more detail later, but what they are and do can be demonstrated in one short example.
Mandy sits in her chair.
On the table in front of her is a flat box.
She reaches out, touches the box, and at once the room is filled with sounds and disco lights.
She loves it, so tomorrow the teacher gives it to her again, but this time the switch box is set just a little further away, so she has to reach a bit.
That, quite simply, is what this book is all about. The apparatus was not particularly expensive. The 'outputs' - 'the rewards' - cost nothing because the teacher already had them; the sound came from a radio, and the disco lights came from - well - disco lights. Anything that plugs in will do.
The picture at the beginning of this section shows a commercial switching unit at its very simplest. The student touches the switch on the left, and the radio comes on. It could be a lamp instead of a radio, or indeed a lamp and a radio.
The switches and switching systems which we have found most useful are described below, but if you really want to see the whole range your best plan is to get hold of a copy of a catalogue of equipment produced for disabled people. The ROMPA® Catalogue displays a wide range of input switches. Do you want a switch that your student can shake, or press, or shout at, or wobble, or pull? There is a grand array of 'output' equipment, light displays, noisy cushions and projectors, which will make the business of activating-the-switch so much more exciting for the learner.
And then there is the Control Unit. The lead from the student's switch is plugged into the front, and whatever you want switched on is plugged into the top. Control Units offer a selection of responses:
The effects only stay switched on while the student's hand is on the switch.
Just like a cord-pull bathroom light switch, the effect goes on at the first press, and off at the second.
The effects stay on for a selectable period of time, then switch off automatically and the learner has to press again to make them come on again.
What we are after, then, is an arrangement whereby the student can make things happen in the world through a small, or even tiny movement. We will use any output if we are sure that the learner enjoys it and is proud of her actions, and if safety factors have been considered. The student's movement on the switch will usually be conscious and deliberate, in that she intends to press the switch and make the nice things happen - although with developmentally very young people this may not be the case. Switches are available which can be placed close to the person so that she turns on the effect by an accidental movement .... and gradually she learns that her movement is producing an effect.