People who need to use an alternative input method to the keyboard, such as a switch, will often need a considerable period of time in which to develop the skills needed to use the switch successfully. Like all motor and cognitive skills these are best learnt from an early age, with suitable activities and teaching strategies, which should be carefully planned and monitored.
Young children in particular will need frequent practice sessions with a suitable switch and interesting activities. The time taken could be compared to that spent in learning to write. Children spend some years practising pencil control and learning letter formation. A child is going to need more than a weekly 'go' at the computer and switch to make progress.
Using adapted toys with switch control units and mains adaptors with other appliances can provide an additional range of switch experiences which can be more meaningful for young children.
Successful switch use will involve a range of skills, abilities and understanding. The aim of using a switch is to give someone a degree of control and access to their environment that would otherwise be impossible due to their disability: not to use it for its own sake when there would be a better way of carrying out a task.
Switches are also useful for some people who may find it difficult to undertake complex tasks but may be able to understand the relatively easy task of pressing a switch to get a response.
As it is likely that different people will be involved in working with someone who is being introduced to switching and technology it is important that all those involved adopt a similar approach. This should involve making sure the switch is in the same position, using the same prompts, instructions, computer programs and settings. Carefully set and agreed common goals are essential and should only be changed after due consideration.
To begin with a meaningful reward or response to the switch operation is essential. It is much more likely that someone will make the effort to work a switch if they enjoy and comprehend the response. It may take careful observation to establish what someone likes, and then to devise a way of presenting this to work with a switch action.
If a child is frightened by sudden noises don't connect the switch to a toy bicycle horn, although it may quickly establish the concept of cause and effect! If a young child enjoys people they may like using a BIGmack to give them orders.
For older people it may be more appropriate to connect the switch to a Powerlink mains controller so they can switch on a light, a fan, a hair dryer etc. For some people it may be necessary to let them explore the switch - what may begin as an accidental switch press may in time develop into an awareness of cause and effect.
Switch Accessible Software