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If you are new to the Alert Program® information, welcome to our website!
“If your body is like a car engine, sometimes it runs on high, sometimes it runs on low, and sometimes it runs just right!” These simple words started the Alert Program® three decades ago.
Now, countless parents, teachers, and therapists world-wide have implemented the Alert Program® with those who are typically developing, not so typically developing, verbal and non-verbal, in almost every setting you can imagine.
The engine analogy often is useful when working with young children, but “one metaphor does not fit all!” The Alert Program®, with its user-friendly approach, helps anyone articulate their inner experience of self-regulation (how alert they feel). Self-regulation awareness turns into action with the program’s simple strategies as outlined in the Take Five! book. The program emphasizes how to change alert levels throughout the day, making it easy to get out of bed, work, play, learn, relax, socialize, and go to bed.
The Alert Program® has been well-received in over 40 countries, for young children, older children, it has even been adapted for adult clients, and seniors in the aging process because we have taken complex theory and simplified it to make it accessible to everyone. Part of what makes the Alert Program® so successful is helping all team members to first learn what they do for self-regulation so they can better support the child or adult client.
…Pause and consider how alert you feel in this moment.
Are you feeling wired and hyped up (high alert state)? Are you feeling sluggish or running out of steam (low alert state)? Are you feeling focused, zeroed in on the task, where it’s easy to learn and problem-solve (“just right” state)? Ideally, we want the ability to shift easily from one state to another throughout our day. And one state of alertness is not better or worse than another. For example, we want to be in a low state to fall asleep at night. And we want to be able to find that sweet spot of optimal alertness to complete our work more efficiently at the office. A high alert state at a football game is fun, but not an ideal alert state for reading this webpage and absorbing new information.
Are you in a high alert state?
- Your engine in high gear?
- Do you feel hyped up?
- Or stressed out?
Are you in a low alert state?
- Your engine in low gear?
- Do you feel lethargic?
- Or feel droopy?
Are you in an optimal alert state?
- Your engine running “just right?”
- Do you feel alert and attentive?
- And is it easy to focus?
What our customers are saying…
Since 1990, the Alert Program® has evolved and continues to set the gold standard with its user-friendly, low-budget approach to teaching self-regulation world-wide. People all over the globe have benefitted from this unique and well-researched program. But don’t just take it from us, here are some testimonials from people who matter.
“In my years of teaching in General and Special Education classrooms, the Alert Program® training was by far the most user-friendly and helpful. Its common sense approach easily fits into my lesson plans with great materials that my students love. This program SAVES me time so I can focus on teaching, not just managing behaviors!”
“As a dad with a child with special needs and aging parents, I wanted to learn about the Alert Program®. So pleased I took the online course because I now have practical ways to support my son and my parents. Learning more about self-regulation really has changed my family’s daily life. We are much happier and understand more now.”
“As a practicing OT for over 20 years, I really don’t know what I would do without this program, it’s that important! For teachers, parents, and administrators, I print out the “Alert Program® Literature and Research” document to help them understand there is proof this works. Thank you so much for helping me be a more effective therapist.”
“You will have an everlasting impact on my therapy. So much so that I have referred medical doctors, OTs, PTs, SLPs, counselors to this program. I know that they want solutions that work and the Alert Program® really delivers. What a fantastic collection of learning materials– I read all the books, played the games, and sang the songs!”
How can my child, student, or client benefit from the Alert Program®?
The Alert Program® offers an easy, systematic approach to help you to be a “detective,” learning how to observe self-regulation and how to choose sensory supports (sensory strategies) for an individual’s highest functioning.
- If you are a parent, through the Alert Program® you’ll learn how you can help your child be alert and focused at home and support their learning at school.
- If you are a teacher or paraprofessional, you’ll learn how to use the program with your class to get your students to an optimal state for learning.
- If you are a therapist (OT, PT, SLP, social worker, counselor, psychologist, or other practitioner), you’ll learn ways to work with individuals and small or large groups in therapy sessions.
- If you are a community provider or mental health worker, you’ll learn options to support those (adults or children) with developmental delays or mental health issues.
The Alert Program® can help everyone at any age because self-regulation is the basis of all of our educational, therapeutic, and parental goals. We want to set up the nervous system for success so it is in an optimal state for functioning. When we are in an optimal state (alert, attentive, and focused) then it is much easier to learn, work, or play, and interact kindly with our loved ones (and it is even easier to read this webpage)!
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. If a mother has set a goal to help her daughter interact socially at the dinner table, we want her daughter be in the best alert state for using her language and social skills.
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, thereby, setting up the nervous system for success for learning, working, playing, and interacting.
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 (we typically would not talk about engines when working with older students or adult clients). Any descriptor that conveys the person’s inner experience of self-regulation can be used, such as:
- Colors (red for high, yellow for low, green or blue for just right)
- Animals (maybe a cheetah for high, a turtle for low, and a bear for just right)
- Winnie the Pooh (Tigger for high, Eeyore 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. For example, are you in an optimal state right now while reading this webpage? If so, you could say, “I’m just right for reading.”)
But what if the child doesn’t talk at all or the engine analogy is too abstract?
If a child, student, or adult client is non-verbal or currently uses a limited vocabulary, then the abstract concept of an engine may not be helpful, and 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. Then, instead, of using words, they can point to the photo that best indicates their level of alertness.
And for those children, students, or adult clients 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 individual identifying their level of alertness). For example, parents might comment to each other at breakfast, “This morning when I helped John get out of bed, his engine seemed really low and groggy. So, I asked him to play some tug-of-war with a towel (heavy work to his muscles). After giggling in our tug-of-war game, his engine got into 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.
To learn more about how to be “detectives” and support self-regulation in homes, schools, therapy clinics, and other settings, check out our Alert Program® Online Course. And to learn about low-budget activities to support self-regulation, even when children can’t talk about or use the engine analogy, check out the Take Five! book.
Can I use the Alert Program® with an individual who has autism?
Yes. For those children, students, or adult clients on the autism spectrum who are verbal and interactive, they can choose what analogy they want to use. If a child loves dinosaurs, then raptors could be high, brontosauruses could be low, and stegosauruses 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 self-regulation 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 like to help me carry this box of books or push the basket of blocks to our circle area?” 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 (but he is not talking about his engine. The adult is guiding his self-regulation choices).
You can find more heavy work and other simple, practical activities in the Take Five! book. And you can learn how to adapt the program for a variety of ages, populations, and settings in our Alert Program® Online Course.
Is there evidence that the Alert Program® concepts work?
Yes. We compiled an extensive list of research specific to the program and articles supporting self-regulation strategies (this list is updated regularly). Please review the “Alert Program® Literature and Research” document to learn more.
Where can I learn more about the program?
The Alert Program® has several books, songs, and games. Click here to learn more. Also, we suggest you browse the Free Resources in our footer. You’ll find articles, radio interviews, and other website links. If you would like to print our one page handout (available in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish), click here.
Also, we offer our Alert Program® Online Course, where you can learn all you’ll need to know to easily implement the program in your setting.
Where do I start or what products should I buy?
You may want to begin by reading some of the articles in our Blog or listening to a radio show interview in our Free Resources. Browse our products to learn more about our Alert Program® books, songs, and games. Click here to read a brief summary of our Alert Program® materials.
And here’s a quick overview to help you get started:
If the child is verbal…
and if the child understands the abstract concept of an engine (and you would like to implement the whole program), then we would suggest using the activities in the Leader’s Guide to teach the child how to:
- Identify alert levels (Stage One)
- Explore methods to change alert levels (Stage Two)
- Learn to regulate alert levels (Stage Three)
One of the fastest ways to teach about self-regulation is explained in the Test Drive! (book and CD). Also, the Alert Program® games, Alert: Go Fish!, Alert Bingo, and Keeping on Track Board Game can be used to reinforce the self-regulation concepts. Our games correlate with the three stages of the Leader’s Guide.
If the child is not yet 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.
The Alert Program® CD is great for children who are not yet using words to communicate. 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 effective songs to use with all types of verbal or non-verbal children (abstract or concrete thinkers) since the music will help them to self-regulate whether or not they can identify their own levels of alertness.