"How is Your Engine Running?"

July 3, 2017

Well-known in the OT world, "How is Your Engine Running" is the key phrase in the Alert Program authored by Occupational Therapist's Williams and Schellenberger.


The Alert Program "helps children learn to recognize how they feel when their levels of alertness change throughout the day." (Case-Smith O'Brien 2010) To learn more about what self-regulation means and how the Alert Program works, check out their radio show interviews here.


Who might have issues with self-regulation?

The short answer is: anyone! Despite our best efforts and intentions, everyone has had moments when we struggle to keep our attention focused and our minds alert. Whether it is because of distractions in our environment or even our own central nervous system getting in the way, adequate self-regulation does not always come easy. Some individuals with conditions like ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and PDD may have difficulties with regulating his/her level of attention. In those cases, sensory processing interventions like the Alert Program can provide great benefits. It can teach us to process the stimulus in our environment like colors, sounds, smells and textures in a more adaptive and resilient way. In this way, we are able to interact and participate in activities in daily life more fully and with greater enjoyment. The Alert Program uses the analogy of a car engine to refer to our levels of self-regulation. (Williams 2017)


What does poor self-regulation look like?

Williams and Shellenburger explain what it looks like when your engine is running "low":

  • seems "sleepy"

  • seems "not interested" or "doesn't care"

  • blank facial expressions

  • looks "droopy"

  • "couch potato"







Williams and Shellenburger explain what it might look like when your engine is running "high":

  • Changing tasks quickly

  • bumping into other people

  • Loud

  • Doesn't seem to "stick to anything"

  • Fast movers





How can increasing awareness about self-regulation help us?

Williams and Schellenburger explain that some things you might feel once your engine is running "just right" are:

  • Alert

  • Attentive

  • Responsive

All of these characteristics make participating in day to day activities feel easier. We may also feel more present in the moment. The information in this article is based on the Alert Program materials. To read more about the Alert Program and the research behind it, visit their website: https://www.alertprogram.com/


Contact us to find out how Sprout to Sprinkle incorporates sensory learning and self-regulation activities into our group sessions.



Case-Smith, O'Brien. Occupational Therapy for Children. 6th edition. Mosby Elsevier. 2010.


Williams, Schellenburger. https://www.alertprogram.com/.  Retrieved: July 2017.



Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

© 2017 by Sprout to Sprinkle LLC. 

This site was designed with the
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now