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Switch-Adapted Toys: The Power Of Fun Therapy

By: Eva Witkowsk
Early Intervention Specialist and founder of adaptivePlay
As the famous author Diane Ackerman once expressed, “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning”. From a very early age, most of us get to embark on an exploratory mission to become aware of our surroundings and our own capabilities through Play. Toys prompt us to not only have fun, but also to help us sustain our curiosity to keep learning. However, many children with limited fine motor skills and low muscle tone (for example, Cerebral Palsy, SMA, etc) do not get the chance to interact with most of the cool toys that are readily usable by everyone else. Many of these children cannot interact with battery-operated toys because the ON and OFF switches are very small and require the user to have enough dexterity and strength in the fingers to operate them. Fortunately, there are ways of making these toys accessible to these children; in fact, toys can be adapted so that they can be operated using a larger switch that is much easier to activate (similar to Ablenet’s Jelly Bean switch). In this short article, we will give a quick overview of the different methods to adapt toys, and discuss the benefits of using switch-adapted toys as tools for therapy.
Toys can be adapted so that a much larger switch can be plugged into the toy and become the toy’s new switch. It is then much easier for the child to hit/push the larger switch to interact with the toy. There are primarily two methods to adapt toys: 1) interrupting the batteries, or 2) interrupting the switch directly. Obviously, each method has its own advantages and challenges.
The most straightforward method to adapt a toy is to interrupt the batteries of the toys, which basically means that the wires of the larger switch are connected to a piece of cupper-platted board that is squeezed in between one of the batteries and the terminal that feeds to the hardware (motor/CPU/speaker of the toy). Once the large switch is pushed, the batteries provide the power for the toys. In this method, the large switch essentially becomes a traditional ON/OFF switch. Therefore, this method can only be used with more basic toys that only have continuous ON/OFF modes (for example, a small dog that keeps barking until it’s switched off). The advantage of this method is that it is relatively easy to implement; however, there are some clear limitations such as the interactivity of the toy. Additionally, this method presents some challenges when the batteries run out and need to be changed since the cupper-platted board is squeezed in between the battery and the terminal.
The second method of adapting toys is by interrupting the switch of the toys itself. Instead of simply interrupting the batteries, the toy is disassembled to find the wires of the toy’s primary switch. Once the wires of the switch are found, the wires of the switch are cut and rerouted to the larger switch. Obviously, this method is much more complex and requires a certain level of technical know-how to implement. However, it opens up a whole new range of possibilities as far as adapting engaging toys that are popular and highly interactive, such as toys that do something new and different every time the switch is activated. The challenges associated with this method are mostly around time and technical know-how since every toy is unique and requires a fair amount of exploration before finding the wires that connect to the hardware.
Switch-adapted toys allow some children with special needs to experience fun times in their lives. Parents of children with special needs are not always aware of the switch-adapted toys options available to them, and understandably default to not buying toys for their children. There are clear benefits of creating playful moments in these children’s lives and switch-adapted toys are one of many ways for parents to bring Play into their children’s routines. Building on children’s desire to experience fun moments, occupational therapists and early intervention specialists can leverage switch-adapted toys and integrate them in their therapy strategies. When working with younger children with special needs, therapists regularly have to deal with compliance and adherence challenges:

  • Child does not comply with therapy exercises because they are painful or simply too boring.
  • Therapy stops when the therapist leaves because parents do not feel properly equipped to pursue the exercises on their own, which ultimately slows down the child’s progress.

Switch-adapted toys are effective prompts that therapists can use during their sessions and parents can use after-hours. Depending on the circumstances, switch-adapted toys can have significant positive impact on the following:

  • Strength
  • Fine motor skills
  • Visual focus
  • Range of motion
  • Cause and effect
  • Sense of control over environment

Different types of toys will accomplish different goals, but therapists can use their creativity to purposefully integrate switch-adapted toys into existing practices. Switch-adapted toys are becoming much more sophisticated and fun, so therapists/parents have many more options to pick from to ensure their patients/children get to play with toys that they truly love.
This Month’s Featured Vendor: AdaptivePlay
We thank Adaptive Play’s founder, Eva Witkowska for providing this article for our Newsletter.
adaptivePlay is an organization that focuses on promoting the importance of Play for children with special needs. On their site, you will find a diverse selection of toys that will help children with special needs to enhance their physical, cognitive and socio-emotional skills. At adaptivePlay, they strongly believe that play can be a great complement to therapy by making it fun and easier to adhere to.
Please support our contributing Vendors and Authors and visit adaptivePlay Or email them at [email protected]

PediaStaff hires pediatric and school-based professionals nationwide for contract assignments of 2 to 12 months. We also help clinics, hospitals, schools, and home health agencies to find and hire these professionals directly. We work with Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational and Physical Therapists, School Psychologists, and others in pediatric therapy and education.


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