Sensory Diet vs. The Alert Program ("How Does Your Engine Run")

What's The Difference And How Can They 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 experience...

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 approaches this.

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 sensory diet?

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. Like this:

- "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 activities.

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 regulation.

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.  

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Creating A Home Sensory Diet - One of the most effective treatments for Sensory Processing Disorders is a sensory diet.

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