Busted: Developing Switch Timing Skills


When someone is learning to scan using one switch there are two key skills that they need to practice. The first is the ‘timing’ skill. This involves the student pressing the switch in response to some cue often something popping up on the screen. In the Switch Progression Road Map, it’s described as;

20: Student can press a single switch in response to an on-screen cue.

The most common way to teach this skill has always been with software. You know the thing. A car pops up on the screen and the student hits the switch when they see it. If the student manages to press the switch before the car disappears, they are rewarded with a short animation. Sounds easy and for some of our students it is.

However some will really struggle with it. These are our students with cerebral palsy or other physical difficulties who may find it incredibly difficult to overcome the excitement of the anticipation and struggle to coordinate the movement of their body to hit the switch before the time runs out. So what can we do? Well some of the software we use will allow us to extend the time period the student has to press the switch. This is useful but in my experience there will still be a few students who won’t be able to get to the switch even with 20 seconds. When we designed Switch Skills 2, we added a new feature, ‘Wait until the switch is pressed’.

switch skills

This really helps as the ‘car’ will now stay on the screen until the student has sorted themselves out and pressed the switch. No more failures, which is a good thing. Over time the student become less excited by the anticipatory element and begins to develop ‘muscle memory’ which will help speed up their response. All well and good but if the student can only practice this skill with one piece of software, there is a danger that they (or you) will get very bored with it. Here’s an idea for practising the skill with simple games AWAY from the computer.


All you need is a Big Mack and some treasure. Chocolate coins works well for this as you can share them out with the class after the game is over.

Record “You’re busted” on the Big Mack or use an alarm sound.

Here’s what’s going to happen. Your switch user has to guard the treasure – others in the class get to take a turn too. Someone has to hide in the classroom while the guard is not looking then try and sneak up and steal some of the treasure. When the student sees you (and they will), they press the Big Mack and you’re busted. Some of the students can also try to steal the treasure – you’ll know if that might work else let everyone have a turn at being the guard.


So what’s happening? Well your switch user is practising their timing skills in a game that doesn’t single them as being different and you are completely in control over the time they have to press the switch.  More adventurous colleagues might want to swap the Big Mack for a switch adapted water pistol or Nerf gun. Prepare to get soaked!


This is just one of the ideas I share during my switch skills training sessions. For more information about this and other training sessions, please visit my web site. www.ianbean.co.uk I also share lots of teaching ideas on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/SENICT.info