Aspire Living & Learning Academy (ALL Academy) is a place where students with diverse abilities come to learn, grow, and thrive. For many students, play is an essential part of their learning experience.

For students with disabilities, particularly those facing motor challenges, playing with standard toys can be a daunting task. While there are specialized toys and assistive devices designed to overcome these barriers, their often prohibitive costs present a significant challenge.

Engaged in the Assistive Technology Program at Southern Connecticut State University, Taylor Knouse-Selk, M.S., CCC-SLP, a dedicated speech and language pathologist at ALL Academy, stepped up to solve that challenge. She began exploring innovative solutions that bridge the accessibility gap. The beloved spin art toy, known for its dynamic and engaging nature, became Taylor’s canvas.

Taylor undertook a series of trial runs and adaptations, evolving the spin art toy into a switch-adapted version. Now, students can activate it using a large switch made of clay, eliminating the need to manipulate small buttons. Students can also easily apply paint to the canvas by pushing a syringe with a large top—a more accessible alternative than squeezing small paint bottles.

The spin art project quickly became a hit among students, including those who had previously shown limited interest in similar activities.

A student using a modified version of a spin art toy with AAC symbols and large buttons that are features of many adaptive play toys.

Many non-speaking students at ALL Academy have Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) programs on iPad devices. However, Taylor acknowledges that children may not always be inclined to carry these devices while playing, and sometimes, the batteries may inconveniently die.

During the adaptation of the toy, AAC symbols such as “help,” “more,” and “like” were seamlessly incorporated into the spin art activity, empowering students to communicate effectively while engaging with the toy and support vocabulary development. Being able to integrate ‘Core Words’ like these into readily available items is a step towards ensuring inclusive communication.

A student using a modified version of a Pop the Pig toy with AAC symbols, a container to shake dice, and large buttons that are features of many adaptive play toys.

Taylor’s ingenuity expanded beyond the spin art project. Not only did Taylor introduce a customized variation of the game Pop the Pig, but also unveiled a much-anticipated modified switch bubble machine. Now, students facing challenges in rolling a die can effortlessly engage by shaking the Pop the Pig dice within a container. Similarly, those who find small buttons cumbersome can easily operate the bubble machine, turning it on and off seamlessly. These low-cost adaptations are not just tools; they empower students with the autonomy to participate fully in the joy of play.

A student using a modified version of a spin art toy with AAC symbols and large buttons that are features of many adaptive play toys.

As Taylor works to explore more innovative solutions to support adaptive play and communication for students at ALL Academy, the focus remains on overcoming barriers and fostering inclusivity. In her work, Taylor emphasizes the human right to communication. She challenges the assumption that non-speaking people lack understanding and advocates for inclusive tools and assessments. Her mantra is to “presume competence,” recognizing the unique needs of each person and ensuring that no one is left without a means of expression.

Stories of Impact

Taylor Knouse-Selk’s Innovative Approach to Adaptive Play