This is Part 2 of a two part blog on the Benefits of Switch Adapted Play. I wrote this at the request of Janet Canning who runs the USA based website ‘’. It’s a social community website that is completely dedicated to people with special needs and disabilities. (Here’s a quick link to Part 1 in case you want to recap.)

Toys can teach awareness

The ‘play value’ of a toy can be subtle but, if chosen well, can help develop a child’s awareness of what is going on. In other words one of the benefits of switch adapted play is the learning experience.

Example of a Tolo train set adapted with wireless switch technology.
Tolo Train switch adapted toy

What we need is a toy that works when the switch is pressed and stops when released. But then continues, from the point at which it stopped, when pressed again. Switch adapted toys that work in this way are the best. This sounds very simple but today’s trend is toward more complex toys that generally don’t do this.

Desirable features

We believe toys should have:

  • Some form of movement: one may stay on the spot while its body moves (bubble machine) while another might drive along on a track (Rally Racer).
  • A purpose/function apart from fun and play: the toy may teach spatial awareness, or develop cause and effect, or expand sensory awareness in some way.
  • Be varied: so that a child does not become bored with it. (although they may inevitably out-grow it) Boredom may prevent the child from grasping a specific educational aspect.

Ideally switch adapted play should be both fun and educational.

Cognitive awareness

By selecting the right toys the child will begin to increase their cognitive awareness. Lots of toy features can support this such as:

  • Shape: the child can interact with the toy and, in so doing, develops an increased awareness of shape. If this is something that a teacher can observe – for example putting shapes through correct holes – then the child demonstrates a learnt skill.
  • Colour: increased awareness of colour in some specific way. Perhaps the child learns to interact with one coloured part to perform one function and another to perform a second.
  • Sound: toys that produce a variety of sounds that can be controlled by the child. For some, sounds may help the learner locate the toy in their surroundings.
  • Light: for those with visual acuity problems light is important. It might mean the difference between being attracted to and awareness of the toy and showing no interest and or awareness. (Twilight Turtle Tunes)
  • Tactility: If the toy is designed to be interactive and the child can hold/touch/feel it then different tactile surfaces may be helpful (Sneezy the Activity Dragon)
  • Spatial awareness and control: in all three dimensions. Often we neglect the up and down aspect. For example, a fire engine that can travel forwards and backwards, left and right and also raise and lower its ladder plays in 3D. Each direction should be controlled by a different switch. Full 3D control may be too complex for the child to grasp all at once. If that’s the case then the parent / professional may initially restrict control to make it simpler. Progressing at a later stage to learning all of the possibilities with the same toy.

You’ve made it through to the end of Part 2. I hope the points covered give you good ideas for when you next go toy shopping. I’d love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave comments.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Tony Jones at Talksense for the help in preparing this blog on the Benefits of Switch Adapted Play.

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