Some computer programs have been designed to be operated directly by using a single switch, two switches, mouse clicks, overlay keyboards and touch screens. Many of these programs can also be operated by key presses on the keyboard, using the space bar and return keys.
These programs are commonly used by learners with physical difficulties, those with severe learning difficulties and young children or those at an early developmental stage. They can be used for developing early interaction with the computers; developing a concept of cause and effect; providing activities for the development of switch skills; stimulating and encouraging movement and hand function; developing visual skills; providing children with access to a range of learning situations, particularly those limited in physical movement who are unable to access many traditional methods.
Programs designed to provide these kinds of experiences. These include the Big Bang, Switch Skills 1 and the SwitchIt! series.
This program has been developed to create a series of fun and interesting activities which can be controlled by switches and other simple input devices. It contains 10 action scenes in which the same character carries out a number of activities including:
• painting a picture
• driving a car
• going fishing
• playing in the playground
• diving into a swimming pool
• playing football
• going to bed
• becoming an astronaut
The program offers a wide range of activities which can be configured to suit individual users' needs. In this way the same kind of activities can be used with a variety of learners and for different purposes.
The menu screen allows the program to be set up to meet different needs, ranging from a reward of the whole activity requiring just one switch press, to quite complex turn taking and switch activities using two switches.
Each activity has been designed to provide opportunities for language development. An adult would work alongside the child to make sure that the child gains maximum benefit from the program.
With SwitchIt! Scenes, each time a character appears he is wearing something different, which is a clue to the activity he is going to carry out. For example, when he paints a picture, he appears wearing a beret. Again, this provides opportunities for working with the pupil, for example, "Oh look, he's wearing a beret, can you guess what he is going to do?"
The ten different activities can be selected to appear either in sequence or at random. It is also possible to choose individual selections from the ten so that the child may only do just one, or a number of his favourite activities.
Each activity can be built in any number of steps from 1 through to 5, which makes it possible to tailor the program. This is particularly useful for those children who can only make a switch press with a great amount of effort - where having to press the switch five times to complete a picture would be too much.
It is better to introduce children to switches with activities which require just one switch press to obtain a reward, gradually increasing this to further presses.
With SwitchIt! Scenes the single step option is also available with pauses, giving the teacher time to discuss each stage of the picture as it appears.
When using software of this nature it may be necessary initially for the teacher to operate the program and the child just to watch. This will allow the child to become familiar with the activities and, hopefully, offer the motivation to want to do it themselves.
SwitchIt! Scenes can be operated by either single or double input. Switches can be connected through a switch interface or the switch socket on an IntelliKeys USB keyboard.
The mouse buttons and the space bar and return keys on the keyboard can also work the program.
A particularly important feature of SwitchIt! Scenes is that visual indications on the screen are provided in the form of illustrations.
Extending the range of activities available to a simple form of colour matching. The child can be encouraged to press the red switch or the blue switch. The two switch operation is also particularly useful for turn taking activities - each child having a different colour switch.
As well as offering both switches alternately it is possible to select a random operation of two switches. This way the child has to observe the screen - a good way to notice if the child has adopted the pattern of automatically pressing one switch and then the other, not knowing why. With random selection the program will only continue to operate when the switch matching the one presented on the screen is pressed.
A selectable speech prompt and an error indicator are also available. For some children the error indicator itself may be the reward so it can be cancelled if desired.
To cater for children who may have difficulty in pressing and releasing a switch easily, due to physical problems, a de-bounce option is available. This makes rapidly repeated presses void. These settings can vary from user to user and if the child is experiencing problems using the program it is worth experimenting with these particular settings. Remember to change only one at a time to avoid additional confusion.
It must be remembered that ample time and practice is needed for a child to become a proficient switch user. There may also be difficulties in the early stages where the child has to devote all their attention to locating and pressing the switch and are unable to watch the screen display at the same time. Some of these difficulties can be overcome by careful arrangement and positioning of the child, the switch and the monitor.
Many users take some time to develop switch skills. Part of the teachers' work will be in using the somewhat limited range of switch software available for switch training in creative ways.
In the SwitchIt! programs we provide a variety of methods of operation which allows the programs operation to be changed whenever it is needed, thus allowing different activities to be carried out with the same program.
Setting Sound and Display
In order to check whether a child is responding to the sound or the picture, turn the volume down on the computer so the program works silently. You can also alter the background colour of the display. This may help children with visual problems. A particular feature of the SwitchIt! range of programs is that settings chosen within one program can be saved and used again.
Opportunities should be taken to extent a child's work with switches away from the computer. Various characters appearing in the SwitchIt! series are available to print out. These print outs could be used in an eye pointing activity for a child with severe difficulties, i.e. "Can you show me the picture you have just built on the computer screen?" or, additional props could be used alongside the programs, for example, pots of coloured paint, a toy car, football etc. The pictures will also allow you to check whether the child actually understands, or is seeing, the picture on the screen and relating it to everyday objects.