About the Alert Program® ...."If your body is like a car engine, sometimes it runs on high, sometimes it runs on low, and sometimes it runs just right." When teachers, therapists, or parents use these simple words to begin the Alert Program®, they enter an exciting adventure with children. The journey unfolds easily with the program's clearly defined steps for teaching self-regulation awareness. The book, How Does Your Engine Run? A Leader's Guide to the Alert Program® for Self-Regulation (Williams & Shellenberger, 1996), describes an innovative program that supports children, teachers, parents, and therapists to choose appropriate strategies to change or maintain states of alertness. Students learn what they can do before a spelling test or homework time to attain an optimal state of alertness for their tasks. Teachers learn what they can do after lunch, when their adult nervous systems are in a low alert state and their students are in a high alert state. Parents learn what they can do to help their toddler's nervous system change from a high alert state to a more appropriate low state at bedtime. of the program not only learn what they can do to support self-regulation, but how to share the underlying theory so all can understand the basics of sensory integration. By reading the book or attending a conference, adults increase awareness of their own self-regulation thereby improving their ability to facilitate students' optimal functioning. The Sensory-Motor Preference Checklist (for Adults) is a tool used to support this learning process. For example by filling out the checklist, adults may discover that before work, they may drink coffee, take a brisk walk, or listen to jazzy music to get their engine up and going for the day. Or others may find that they drink hot chocolate, rock in a rocking chair, or watch the glow of a fireplace to get their engine slowed down after a busy day. Bringing to awareness what most people do automatically in their daily routines, fosters the understanding of how important self-regulation is for students' functioning. Although the Alert Program® initially was intended for children with attention and learning difficulties, ages 8-12, it has been adapted for preschool through adult and for a variety of disabilities. If children are intellectually challenged or developmentally younger than the age of eight, the program's concepts can be utilized by staff to develop sensory diets (Wilbarger & Wilbarger, 1991) to enhance learning . Join the group of teachers, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, adapted physical educators, educational assistants, counselors, social workers, and parents who are enhancing children's lives using the Alert Program®.
new to the alert program?

New to the Alert Program?<®

If you are new to the Alert Program information, we’re so glad you found your way to our website!

O ver the past two decades, countless parents, teachers, and therapists world-wide have implemented the Alert Program with those who are verbal or non-verbal. They found the program to be a practical approach to support self-regulation for all ages and all types of challenges, including autism and ADHD. As you begin thinking how the Alert Program can best meet the needs of your young child, older student, or adult client, click on the following questions. And we encourage you to browse our website to learn more.

What is self-regulation?
"Self-regulation is the ability to attain, change, or maintain an appropriate level of alertness for a task or situation" (Williams & Shellenberger, 1996). Having the ability to change how alert we feel is the foundation of every goal a parent, teacher, or therapist has for their children (or adult clients).

If a teacher is working on teaching math, we want the students to be in an optimal level of alertness for learning the new math concept (in a just right state ready to learn math). If a speech therapist has the goal of helping a client make the "r" sound, we want the child to be in an optimal state of alertness for the muscles of his mouth to form that sound. Perhaps a mother has set a goal to help her daughter interact socially at the dinner table. Then the mother would want to use sensory strategies to help her daughter be in the best alert state for using her language and social skills at the dinner table.

If we are in a low state of alertness (lethargic or "droopy"), we are not ready to learn. Likewise, if we are in a high state of alertness (hyper or overly active), learning is more difficult. Through the Alert Program, we offer self-regulation strategies to attain an optimal state of alertness. We want to set up the nervous system for success and be ready to learn and achieve our goals.

Why the engine analogy?
The Alert Program uses an engine analogy because many children can relate and learn quickly about self-regulation when talking about their “engine” going into high, low, or just right gears. The engine analogy is just one way, but by no means the only way, to describe how alert one feels. We search for words that have meaning to the child or adult client (obviously we would not talk about engines when working with older students or adult clients). We can use any descriptor that conveys the person’s inner experience of self-regulation such as:
  • colors (red for high, yellow for low, green or blue for just right)

  • animals (maybe cheetah for high, turtle for low, and bear for just right)

  • Winnie the Pooh (Tigger for high, Eyore for low, and Pooh for just right)

  • use the child’s special interest, especially if on the Autism Spectrum. (For example, if the child loves to talk about a certain movie then use characters from that movie.)

  • or adults might use the words, “high alert, low alert, and just right for ___ (fill in the blank for any activity)”

But what if my child doesn’t talk at all or the engine analogy is too abstract?
If your child is non-verbal or only uses a basic level of communication, then the abstract concept of an engine may not be helpful, could even be irritating as one boy exclaimed, “I don’t have an engine!” He knew he was a boy and not an engine (and wondered if we lost our minds). Those children who are more concrete thinkers might do better with actual photos taken when they are in high, low, or just right states of alertness.

And for those children who are not yet capable of pointing to a photo of themselves in different alert states, then the adults in their life can use the vocabulary (without the child identifying their level of alertness). For example, two parents might comment at breakfast, “This morning when I helped John get out of bed, his engine seemed really low and groggy. I gave him his bath towel and we played some tug of war. After that heavy muscle work, it seemed to help his engine get up to a just right gear. Then he got dressed much more quickly and cooperatively.” In this way, the parents are not using the engine vocabulary with the child but using the analogy with each other to better problem solve.

You may want to read more about activities to do with children in the Take Five: Staying Alert at Home and School book.

Can I use the Alert Program with my child who has autism?
Yes. For those children on the Autism Spectrum who are verbal and interactive, perhaps have Asperger’s Syndrome, they can choose what analogy they want to use. If a child loves dinosaurs, then raptors could be high, brontosaurus could be low, and stegosaurus could be just right. Whatever descriptors have meaning for the child can be used.

For children on the spectrum who are at a more basic level of communicating and interacting, we would not expect them to be independent in self-regulation. They will need the adults in their life to understand what types of sensorimotor strategies will support their regulation. For example, after a teacher learns the Alert Program information, she may offer the child two choices when he comes in from the bus at the beginning of the school day. Upon entering the classroom, she may observe that the child’s engine is not in an optimal state for learning. She might think, “Hmmm, his engine looks high after the bus ride.” Rather than ask the child about his engine level she would just offer a self-regulation strategy and say, “Let’s get ready for circle time. Would you help me carry this box of books?” In this way, the child gets the heavy muscle work he needs to help his engine get in a just right place for listening at circle time.

You can find more heavy work and other types of activities in the Take Five: Staying Alert at Home and School book.

Is there evidence that the Alert Program concepts work?
Yes. TherapyWorks compiled a list of research specific to the program and articles supporting self-regulation strategies (this list is updated regularly). Click here to review the “Alert Program Literature and Research” document.

Where can I learn more about the program?
The Alert Program has several books, songs, and games you can review to learn more on our Products webpage. And we’d suggest you go to our Resource webpage to find articles, radio shows, recorded broadcasts, and other website links. If you would like to print our one page handout (available in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish), click here.

TherapyWorks, also offers distance learning options and on-site trainings. Click on the following links to learn more about: Where do I start or what products should I buy?
You may want to begin by reading some of the articles or listening to a radio show interview on our Resource webpage. Browse the Products webpage to learn more about some of the Alert Program books, songs, and games. Here’s a quick overview:

If the child is verbal…
and if the child understands the abstract concept of an engine, then we would suggest using the activities in the Leader’s Guide to teach the child how to:
  • Identify engine speeds (Stage One)

  • Explore methods to change engine speeds (Stage Two)

  • Learn to regulate engine speeds (Stage Three)
Another option: One of the fastest ways to teach the engine analogy and the five ways to change engine levels is explained in the Test Drive book and CD with songs for self-regulation.

Also, the Alert Program games, Alert: Go Fish!, Alert Bingo, and Keeping on Track Board Game can be used to reinforce the concepts. They correlate with the Leader’s Guides’ three stages and are explained in more detail on the Products page.

If the child is non-verbal…
and if the child will not understand the abstract concept of an engine, then we’d suggest the Take Five book that offers lots of practical low-budget activities that support self-regulation. This is a great place to start especially for those who will not be teaching the engine analogy but want self-regulation activities for home and school.

And for non-verbal children, the Alert Program CD is a two CD set that has songs for self-regulation and includes an interview with the authors with a brief overview of the program. These songs do not have the word “engine” in them but they are coded to indicate which songs are calming and which ones are alerting. These are good songs to use with all types of children who are verbal or non-verbal (abstract or concrete thinkers) since the music will help them to self-regulate whether or not they understand the engine analogy.

I’m familiar with Autism Hope Alliance, or Kristin Selby-Gonzales, so how does the Alert Program apply to my child?
If you are as big a fan of Kristin Selby-Gonzales life’s work and the Autism Hope Alliance as we are, then you probably are familiar with the importance of sensory supports, biomedical approaches, and nutrition. We are glad you are here on our website to learn more about the Alert Program.

There are lots of ways to incorporate Alert Program concepts into your daily life routines in your home, your child’s classroom, and other settings. You might want to start by reading one of our articles on autism such as the “Alert Program Overview: Supporting Children with Autism”

We’d suggest that you read about the history of the Alert Program and the many successful adaptations in the article, “The Engine that Could Alert Program’s 21st Anniversary.”

We have many other free resources you might like to browse on our Resource page. Or you might be interested in listening to our recorded Fill’er Up Conference Calls such as “Alert Program and Morning Routines” or “Alert Program and Transitions.” Click here to learn more about the recorded conferences calls.

And last but not least, we have regular FREE “Ask the Alert Program Authors” live conference calls. Be sure you have signed up to receive our newsletters or like us on Facebook so that you’ll to hear about any of our upcoming free conference calls or upcoming, new distance learning options.

Learn more about our
Alert Program® Online Course:

USA: Click here

International: Click here

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