Why Use a Switch or TouchWindow?

by Linda Robinson and Carol Schneider

An alternate input, such as switch or TouchWindow, can be beneficial to any young child, not just those who have physical disabilities. Many early childhood skills, such as attending, visual tracking, problem solving, and communication can be enhanced through switch or touch tablet use.

Switch Use
A switch provides a simple input for introducing the computer to young children. When selecting software for switch use, begin with a program containing simple graphics and sound with each press of the switch. The "Make It Sound" portion of Switch Intro (Jokus) is a good beginning program for switch use. With each switch press a picture of an object appears on the screen and the corresponding sound made by the object is heard. The sound is heard for the duration of the switch press.

Other programs which reinforce causality and beginning switch skills include Bears at Play (The Elaine Clark Center), Creature Antics (Laureate Learning), and Press to Play - Animals (Don Johnston). With storybook programs, such as Storytime Tales and Circletime Tales (Don Johnston), children can enjoy hearing a book read to them by pressing a switch to turn the pages in the story.

Besides offering a beginning method of input, the switch may also serve as a tool for communication and other functions throughout a child's life. The child may need to learn how to indicate needs or wants by using a switch to scan across an array of choices.

Children cannot be expected to know how to scan pictures or words with a switch without proper training. Through use of selected software a progression of switch skills can be taught. After achieving causality, the child will then learn that there is an appropriate time to press his switch, and that specific switch pressing will result in communication.

By starting with simple software programs, which at times seem like games, the child can master the skills needed to communicate with a device, such as the Liberator, or to do word processing functions through use of his switch.

Many simple activities can be designed to teach or reinforce these switch skills. Over the past several years the number of software programs designed to reinforce these skills has increased. Jokus switch programs, such as Switch Intro, Hit 'n Time, aMAZEing Ways, and Toy Store are good examples for the Macintosh computer. For those still using older Apple computers, Don Johnston's "Make It Series" and R.J. Cooper's programs are good software for progressive switch use.

In order to use a switch with the Macintosh computer, a switch interface is needed. The cost of a Macintosh Switch Interface from Don Johnston is $135.00. To attach a switch interface to the computer, while the computer is turned off, unplug the keyboard cable from the ADB port on the back of the computer. Plug one end of the switch interface cable into the ADB port on the back of the computer and plug the other end of the cable into the switch interface. Then plug the keyboard cable into the ADB port on the switch interface. Once the switch interface is connected, it wont interfere with the traditional use of the computer.1

When using a switch with a young child, stable placement should be established. Several staff members at Macomb Projects have found that using a switch holder2 will assist the young child at the computer center. Young children quickly become distracted. They may tend to move the switch and cords. A switch holder provides space underneath for hiding cords, eliminating the distraction of playing with the cord, picking up the switch, or sliding it across the computer table. The child can then focus on the monitor and the activity.

TouchWindow Use
Another simple method of input for young children is the TouchWindow. With the Macintosh computer the TouchWindow takes the place of the mouse so young children can activate a program by pressing on the screen or moving their finger across the surface and then pressing on a hot spot in the program. For the younger children, software should be selected which is activated by a touch in a large area or even one touch anywhere on the screen. McGee (Lawrence Productions) is an example of a program which requires a press in one of four large boxes at the bottom of the screen. If the child presses anywhere else on the screen nothing happens. Programs, such as Baby ROM, a CD-ROM, were developed to provide children large activation areas on the screen to explore by touching on the TouchWindow or activating a mouse. As children become more accustomed to using the TouchWindow, they can begin to use programs which offer a variety of activation areas on each screen, such as Just Grandma and Me, Stellaluna, Green Eggs and Ham, or other Living Books software.

Other good early childhood programs which work well with the TouchWindow include Millie's Math House (Edmark), Thinkin' Things (Edmark), Pippi (Ahead Media AB), and Workshop (Ahead Media AB). This is by no means a complete listing of software or CD-ROM programs for young children. However the software listed here has been successfully integrated into classrooms with children with disabilities at the Macomb Projects sites during the past year. The teachers and children's responses were great! A variety of activities can be developed around any of the recommended programs.

The TouchWindow for the Macintosh is available from Don Johnston or other resources for approximately $335.00. The TouchWindow is attached to the computer much like the switch interface. While the computer is turned off, plug the jack end of the TouchWindow Y-cable into the ADB port. Plug the keyboard cable into the other end of the the Y-cable. Turn the computer on and mount the TouchWindow screen to the monitor with velcro strips. The first time the TouchWindow is attached, TouchWindow Driver software will need to be installed on the hard drive. After this is installed the TouchWindow can then be calibrated. Once installed and mounted, as with the switch interface, the TouchWindow won't interfere with the traditional use of the computer.3

Whatever input method is used, technology can be a tool for increasing attending and communication skills and helping develop a variety of early childhood skills. Young children benefit from the consistent use of the equipment as a tool. The computer and software provide children the environment for acquiring early concepts and gaining confidence in communication and cognitive skills. By providing young children the opportunity to perform at their full potential now through simple input methods, such as the switch or TouchWindow, they become prepared for future use of the computer as a tool.

1 MacCessories: A Guide to Peripheral Devices for the Macintosh, Macomb Projects, revised 1997.
2 Schneider, Carol. A customized switch holder for switch placement on a child's wheelchair tray. ACTTion News, Spring, 1991.
3 MacCessories: A Guide to Peripheral Devices for the Macintosh, Macomb Projects, revised 1997.

Note: Software referred to in the preceding article can be purchased from one of the following resources:
Creative Communicating, 801/645-7737
Don Johnston Inc., 800/999-4660
Educational Resources, 800/624-2926

TouchWindow® is a registered trademark of Edmark®Corporation.

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