The study describes the adaptive-switch performances of eight adults with severe multiple impairments. Each was given a series of progressively more difficult discrimination tasks that, if solved, would require the participant to close the switch to activate a device that was not operating or to stay away from the switch if the device was operating. Then in a 2-choice format, a preference test was conducted by providing two devices simultaneously that could be activated or deactivated by closure or release of the switch. Finally, a preferred device was activated and then surreptitiously deactivated. Switch closures in this contingency activated a speech-generating device that played the message, ‘Help me’. All eight participants learned to control the devices by using their adaptive switch, but only four participants learned to make a request for help. Reasons for the different performances across learners and nonlearners are discussed. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.