2003 Conference Proceedings

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Learning Language Using Infrared Toys

Annalee Anderson, MA, CCC-slp
National Manager, AAC Services
Prentke Romich Company
1022 Heyl Road
Wooster OH 44691
1-800-848-8008 ext. 496

ABSTRACT: Although most of us think of infrared in terms of environmental controls and computer access, the use of the infrared capability in an augmentative communication device can be used with infrared toys to offer highly motivating activities for use in the in the development of language and communication skills for young children. A format for analyzing language and communication goals for possible inclusion of infrared toys will be presented. A variety of toys will be analyzed for their language potential, particularly regarding concept development and pragmatics. Subsequently, information about setting up these activities on some communication devices will be reviewed. This will include step-by-step summaries of planning the activities, importing the photos, and setting up the infrared. Details on the availability of existing activities and how infrared activities can be shared will also be presented.

The infrared capability now included in a variety of augmentative communication devices is not limited to application in environmental controls and computer access. For those of us working with individuals who are young, or young at heart, the infrared capability can be use to access infrared toys. Not only do the toys provide an independent leisure activity, they can also be used as a means of developing language concepts in the young augmented communicator.

In the ideal situation, one would identify the language concepts to be taught, and go in search of infrared toys that would support those concepts. However, reality may dictate the acquisition of available infrared toys, analysis of those toys for language application, and having the language activities utilizing the toys developed and ready to use when appropriate. The later approach is the one used in this paper.


A wide variety of infrared toys are available, ranging from toys appropriate for a preschool child to toys that appeal to teen-agers. Infrared toys are often not clearly marked as infrared on the package, so you must investigate carefully. If the toy has a wireless remote control, and there is no antenna on the toy itself, it is probably operated by infrared. Toys that have an antenna run by radio frequency rather than infrared, and cannot be operated by infrared.

Some infrared toys also respond to changes in light and/or sound. These toys are unsatisfactory for this application, as their responses frequently are not clearly a result of a keystroke activation on the augmentative communication device.

Sources where infrared toys are often available include stores such as Radio Shack, Kay Bee Toys, and WalMart. Most of the toys are in the range of ten to twenty dollars.


Look at its remote control to learn what the toy can do. They tend to offer richness in two areas, actions and polar opposite descriptives.

The actions they offer are particularly useful, as young children with motor impairments are often challenged in learning action concepts due to their limited motor experience. Actions frequently seen in the infrared toys include walk, talk, sing, dance, spin, and hop. Don't hesitate to be creative. If your focus is on go rather than walk, call it go in your activity, and use it as one of your tools for teaching go.

Descriptives frequently seen in the infrared toys include fast/slow, right/left, quiet/loud, and forward/backward.

In addition to the actions and descriptives, consider some other possibilities. First, with a bit of creative effort, some of the toys would work well for teaching prepositions, which is another conceptual area that is often weak in children with motor handicaps who have limited experience with acting upon their environment. For example, stop the car in the box or on the paper.

Social interaction is another area where the infrared toys may offer great possibilities. Vocabulary such as "My turn," "Your turn," and "Help me," could be emphasized.


There are a few steps needed to have the activity ready to use. These include writing your language goals, teaching the infrared commands to the augmentative communication device, and creating the activity in the device.

In writing the language goals, remember the emphasis is on language. Write the goal in terms of the language component that will be learned. You might actually use the same goals and activities with other children who do not need communication devices.

Next you want to teach the infrared commands to the augmentative communication device. Follow the instructions that came with the device to teach the infrared commands. In devices from PRC, you open the Tool Box, select IR Setup > Add a Device. Follow the instructions on the screen to teach the device the signals from the remote control that came with the toy.

The next step involves creating the activity to be used with the toy. If the augmentative communication device can import digitized photos, consider taking a photo of the toy and importing it to use as the icon to represent the activity.

Use the imported photo of the toy to represent the activity. To add the infrared functions to the activity, when you select "Spell Text to Store," select "Insert Tool," then "IR." Then you select the name of the toy from the list of IR items, and then select the IR function you want from the list. If desired, you can also have a spoken message.

If you program activities for multiple infrared toys in one device, you may find your activity row is largely occupied by these activities. Consider placing all the infrared toy activities under one icon, such as a toy box that represents them. The toy box would occupy only one location in the activity row, and when selected, would open an activity row showing all the infrared toys.

Here is a note of caution. When you do a memory transfer to backup the memory in the augmentative communication device, the infrared signals do not transfer. When you load the backup file into another device, the new device will have the activity you created for the toy, but it will not have the infrared commands. The infrared commands must be taught to each device, but the procedure is rapid and simple.

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