Highlighting Light Switches

My daughter with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) recently TURNED OFF HER BEDROOM LIGHT SWITCH FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME! To be clear, I was holding Rosalie in my arms when she flipped the switch – so no, my child who is not yet fully mobile did not suddenly learn to climb. 😉

This seemingly “simple” task is often taken for granted by parents of typically-developing children, but the rest of us probably know and understand what an accomplishment this is for a child with a vision impairment (and the delayed fine motor skills that result from it).

How did we achieve this particular skill? Well, it started with me thinking of things her brothers liked to do for fun at her age and then creating a goal to help her build the functional vision and fine motor skills to do one of those activities: flipping light switches up and down!

Rosalie is achieving milestones at her own pace, but her desire (and need) for constant play and learning is no less than it is for my other children. I knew that turning off her bedroom light switch would not be as “simple” as it was for her brothers, but I made it a goal nonetheless. And not only are light switches fun, but turning them on or off is a useful everyday life skill. Win-win!

It took about 6 weeks, but Rosalie began turning off lights when I implemented two easy, strategic steps.

Step One: I began giving Rosalie a daily opportunity to turn off her light switch (how can she learn to do something if I never let her try?).

I did this by making it a new part of her bedtime routine. In between turning on her sound machine (a great auditory cue that, in addition to my constant narration, tells her it’s time to go to sleep) and turning off the light I began pausing by the light switch (with her in my arms) – and asking her if she wants to turn off the light.

Then, I would wait – letting her look, reach, and feel around. Sometimes I would guide her arm with a gentle nudge behind her elbow, helping her hand understand where to go when reaching. After providing ample time for her to try, I would ultimately place her finger on the light switch and (with my finger on top of hers) turn it off for her. I did all of this while narrating what our goal was and what we were doing.

Step Two: I visually adapted the light switch!
R Lightswitch
Supplies from a craft store provide visual and sensory cues for the switches that control the light & ceiling fan.

I placed sparkly, bright pink washi tape around the light switch. I also placed a sparkly, bright pink, star-shaped foam sticker above the switch that controls her ceiling fan. Not only do both of these things provide fun sensory feedback when touched, but they make it MUCH easier for Rosalie to see her visual target(s).

Currently I stick to offering Rosalie the regular chance to flip switches only in her room, but that didn’t stop me from thinking ahead and visually adapting switches in the bathroom and play room.

PR Lightswitch-wm
Pictured: sparkly, red washi tape surrounding switches that control lights, red star identifying ceiling fan switch.

Rosalie’s brothers (ages 5 and 3) saw me placing the red tape and star in the play room and, of course, instantly begged me to decorate their light switches, too! We kept the same identifying “system,” but I let the boys choose their own colors. 🙂

G Lightswitch-wm

P Lightswitch-wm

I began intentionally working on light switches with Rosalie when she was about 15.5 months old (knowing it was a challenging yet reasonable goal for her), and shortly after she turned 17 months she successfully turned the light off for the first time. She has done it nearly every day since then, but still sometimes struggles with manipulating her finger(s) in the right way. It’s a work in progress – but by giving her the OPPORTUNITY and VISUAL ACCESS she has been able to do just that: progress!

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