Monday, June 29, 2015

Using a Y-cord

In previous posts I have talked about using the Animated Step-by-Step poems to conduct a ‘mini play’ in the classroom (06-08/15/22-15) . If you have a ‘mixed ability’ classroom, you can appreciate how challenging it may be to keep the group cohesive, when there are lots of accidental or impulsive activations.

Let’s assume you have assigned a role of time-dependent repetitive line or slot-filler items to a child undergoing training in accessing a head switch using a lateral head turn. As it takes thousands of trials to establish motor automaticity, accidental and/or impulsive activations can be the norm for some time. It is little wonder that classroom staff often shy away from working on more independent switch access within group activities, choosing instead to offer the switch only when it’s time to add the message. Although necessary for some students, it is important to move children to the point of adding voice-output independently uncued by the ‘offered switch’. In the context of an individual therapy room session accidental/impulsive activations may not be a problem … but in a classroom group activity it can be devastating … causing all students to lose focus.

The solution … use a Y-cord

A Y-cord is a pigtail adapter with one male plug and two female plugs. The single male plug is inserted into a jack on the child’s voice-output device (e.g., BIGmack, Step-by-Step Communicator).  The other two plugs will receive two switches: the child’s personal switch and a small switch that will be controlled by a facilitator in the classroom. When an opportunity arises for the child to add a message to the ‘mini play’, the Facilitator presses and holds their switch; voice-output will only occur when the student simultaneously presses their switch. After the message is inserted the Facilitator would release their switch so that future accidental or impulsive activations will not result in voice-output. Thus the facilitator is creating a 'time envelope' in which the child's switch will be capable of producing voice-output. It is important to note,  if either the student or the facilitator press their switch alone, there will be no voice-output.  It is also important to note that the use of a Y-cord is only warranted when the student already has the notion of cause and effect.

I think of the process of using a Y-cord as being analogous to putting training wheels on a two wheel bicycle. Over time the training wheels are gradually loosened allowing the child to assume greater and greater control over the balance necessary for riding the bicycle on their own.

A few years ago AbleNet sold ‘Y-cords’ under the more official name of ‘series adapter’. Although Y-cords/series adapters are no longer commercially available through AbleNet, you can easily make your own using speaker wire, plugs (1/8in/3.5mm mono), solder, soldering iron and electrical tape to bind the soldered connections. Radio Shack is a great resource for the materials needed.

Regardless of whether you call it a Y-cord or a series adapter, this pigtail adapter is a great tool for allowing classroom staff to address the switch training needs of a single student, while simultaneously maintaining a calm learning environment for everyone in the group. As an aside ... the use of a Y-cord would be listed under the column of Assisted by… in the Song/Poem/Story Planning Sheet (see previous post 06-22-15).

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© 2015  Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.