Sensory Diet vs. The Alert
Program ("How Does Your Engine Run")
What's The Difference And How Can
Help MY Child?
A mother writes: How does the Alert Program (i.e. "How Does Your Engine
Run") work vs. a regular sensory diet?
The inspiring Michelle Morris responds with her words of wisdom and personal
Let's talk a little bit about this program, how this is good for our kids,
and how this is different from a sensory diet, want to? Great! Let's Go.
For those who may be confused; "How Does Your Engine Run?" is the SAME
program as the ALERT Program. I, and hundreds (more likely, thousands) of
other parents, have done this program with our kids, and have seen major
improvements in our children's awareness of arousal levels and how to manage
their own levels of alertness.
This is the goal of the program:
Increased understanding of adults concerning what we do,
and increased understanding of children, that they can manage themselves, and
come to know what to do, and when to do it.
Let's see, we begin this program with the Adult Checklist. This
checklist is great for recognizing what we, as adults naturally do to change the
way we feel, helping us to understand how we do this in our everyday lives.
Then we go on to examine different ways we may change our own levels of
alertness. Questions to ponder, and suggestions for sensory input will
follow the adult checklist.
Next, we begin to examine all the different ways we can show our children
how to identify what makes THEM feel better. Age may change how a parent
For example, with my own boy being four at the time, and unable to read
anything, we talked about this, and created a "picture wall" of things he
discovered he could choose from, to help himself when he didn't "feel good".
This is a great goal.
We want our children to become able to self regulate, and we come to realize
that we all help ourselves do that in a hundred ways every day, never realizing
we are doing it.
If we can teach our children healthy, socially acceptable means to control
themselves, to slow down or speed up when they need to, that's half the battle
won over the problems with SPD, I think.
Also, very important to me, was the idea that if a child grows up knowing
what he/she can do to feel better, they are more likely to have a healthy,
positive self-esteem and less likely to self medicate as teenagers. Less likely
to abuse others as adults, to drink, fight, and everything else that happens
when an adult can't identify or control their emotions and feelings.
How is the Alert Program (ie. "How Does Your Engine Run") different from a
It is different because instead of directing their play, offering a daily set
of activities, we are teaching them how to recognize and do for themselves what
activities they may need to feel just right, all day long. We are preparing them
for the future. As the saying goes, "Give a man a fish, you will feed him for a
day. TEACH a man to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime!" The Alert Program (ie,
"How Does Your Engine Run?") teaches the man to fish!
In our family, we started with just talking about it for about a week.
- "Oh my, I am so tired this morning! I think I'll take a shower. Yes,
that will make me feel more awake."
- "You know Michael, I am running out of patience right now, and I feel
angry. I am going to my room for five minutes of peace and quiet, and that will
help me to feel better."
- "Gosh, what a busy day. I am exhausted. I need to feel more alert so I
can make dinner for you. Let's turn on the lights and put on some lively music.
That will do it."
You get it, I presume. I did this all the live long day. When he started
responding by saying, "I can do that too!" I knew it was time to let him join
the family and start identifying his own methods.
So, we got out catalogs, and started trying different activities when he felt
these things. HE chose what worked best for HIM, and added a picture of that
activity to the wall, under the appropriate picture of a mouth, a hand, eyes,
ears, touch, etc.
Once you see the checklist, and go through it yourself, you will begin to
see all the ways that you really do use input to calm, soothe, and de-stress.
Your sensory diet comes into play here... your child will be familiar with
some of these activities and will choose, surprisingly (?), these kinds of
We went one step further, that wasn't in this program. We addressed all his
feelings. Not just how "alert" he was but also anger, jealousy, shyness,
sadness, etc. We added options to our picture wall, of different things HE CHOSE
that would make him feel better when he was angry, sad, jealous, or whatever.
We extended this program to include these, because he was at that time so
unaware of his feelings, and even what the names of these feelings were. You
begin to use the words, "Honey, how is your engine running right now?" And they
tell you, "TOO Fast!" What can you do about it? And they choose something...
There, you now have a self-directed sensory diet!
Also, One more thing...
When I am doing a workshop, or having a meeting. Whenever I've got a group of
adults in a room, I offer a selection of "goodies" when they arrive. I have a
table of cookies, crunchy foods, drinks, gum, assortment of fidget toys, etc. I
encourage them to take something to their seat while we talk.
I introduce the Alert Program (i.e., "How Does Your Engine Run") and begin
talking about the Adult Checklist in the book. Then I call attention to the lady
to my right who is swinging her leg back and forth, the man who is chewing gum
vigorously, the teacher who is crunching on one chip after another, and the Dad
who is jingling his keys in his pocket. I "catch" them in the act of self
And then I see it dawn on them what in the world I am talking about. That we
ALL do this, in many ways, and our kids just may need more intense, more
regular, or more specific activities to address these issues, than the adults
are doing right at this moment.
This was just a thought about how some of you might explain this concept to
relatives, teachers and friends... Set 'em up first, talk about it, then point
out all the things they are doing right NOW, that are self regulating. Then,
hope that they finally get it!
About the Author:
Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with SPD. She is
whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families with
SPD children. She has published over 30 articles supporting and educating
parents about SPD.
Additionally, Michelle is the International Administrator of
SPD Parent S.H.A.R.E. and owner of the Yahoo support group
Start Making A Difference With YOUR Child... Get A Copy Of The Alert
Program (ie, "How Does Your Engine Run?") Today!"
A Home Sensory Diet - One of the most effective treatments for Sensory
Processing Disorders is a sensory diet.
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