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This paper deals with practical issues surrounding the use and development of switching skills with ... - page 2 / 6





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How does the master craftsperson make best use of his/her tools? First the master chooses with care – there will be those tools s/he uses the most, the favoured tools, and a few peripheral tools that are used for that very special purpose. The master knows that a few tools used well are better than a whole galaxy used badly. Second, the craftsperson knows which tool to use and when and how to wield it to get the best results. Third, the craftsperson does not start the polishing process before the material has been prepared and worked. S/he would probably consider ludicrous the notion of adapting the polishing process to make it more suitable for the unprepared material.  

This paper is about the use of switches. A switch is simply a tool that may be used in conjunction with other tools to help the craftsperson develop his/material towards a desired goal. Switches can help an individual reach many goals including those involving communication, cognition, and control.  Indeed, for some individuals, a switch or switches may be one of the essential pre-requisites. A switch is fairly useless on its own, by definition, a switch operates something else - activating a switch enables something else to happen. Providing the master chooses and prepares wisely, the switch will tirelessly and objectively perform its given duty. That is not to say that the material will always be compliant. Indeed, the material may be resistant. In real terms, there are many individuals for whom the switch is an inappropriate starting point. This is where the parallel techniques take centre stage. That is not to say that we give up on the introduction of a switch as a means to help establish, let’s say, cause and effect. How do we introduce a switch to the individual (let’s call him Adam, we’ll introduce Eve later) who ignores our presence and sits and rocks in his chair?  

Problems & Some ideas for Solutions

We’ve already stated that we would be using other techniques to help Adam move from his state of isolation towards more social interactions. However, we wouldn’t necessarily wait until this was achieved before introducing a switch. We would:


try to discover something that Adam finds stimulating (a motivator or motivators)


provide the motivator(s) through the activation of a switch


help Adam ‘discover’ the switch

There are three basic rules for switch use that have served us well. There are always exceptions to rules and the switch rules are no exception! However, we recommend them for your consideration:


Never use the word switch when talking to the learner. Never say ‘hit the switch Adam’ rather say ‘Adam, turn on the fan’. Keep the phrase simple, consistent and put the keyword (in this case ‘fan’) last.


Label the switch with a symbol. The individual experiencing PMLD must encounter many switches during the average day – how is Adam to discriminate between one switch and another? In one session the switch turns on some music and in another it activates a foot-spa. On one day the red switch turns on a fan and on another day the same switch makes a dog move and yap. How is Adam ever to learn that the switch is doing this – it hardly has the same result every time it is activated. It is not predictable. It is not consistent. The label helps to build in the consistency. We know that Adam may not be consciously attending to the label (at first) but good practice dictates that, nevertheless, switches should be labelled (unless there is a good reason for not labelling!).


Do not hold the switch rather mount the switch. There are good reasons for holding a switch and we’ll deal with some later but, unless there is a good reason, don’t hold the switch. Holding the switch can lead to unconscious ‘cueing’. Furthermore, your switch positioning will likely be inconsistent.

We also have Eve in our group. Eve is more social than Adam. However, when we put a switch in front of Eve she first tries to put it in her mouth and, when she finds she cannot do that (it is firmly mounted) she repeatedly hits the switch over and over!

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