How do you wake up in the morning? Do you use an alarm clock that beeps loudly? Do you like to wake up in a bright room, have a hot shower or go for a run? Eat crunchy cereal or drink a hot coffee? Can you imagine if you weren’t able to have one or all of these things that are really important in waking yourself up and getting your body in that ‘Just Right’ state to face the world for the day? How would you feel? How would you behave? What about throughout the day, are there things that your body needs in order to function at its optimal level of arousal (alertness)? Now imagine you are a child.
Let me explain… it’s 3pm and I am sitting at my dining room table trying to type out my blog post for you all. I feel sluggish, I’m resting my body on the table, holding my head up with my hands and when approached by my daughter I’m what you might call snappy. I’m not in my ‘Just Right’ state. So I get up, I put on a load of washing, I go outside for some bright light and fresh air, and I make myself a cup of tea. I give myself a break and reach for all the strategies in my toolbox that will allow me to re-focus and reach my ‘Just Right’ state. Sucking on a lollypop also helps! I’m now able to continue writing. But what can a child do to put themselves in this ‘Just Right’ state?
In understanding the needs of our own nervous systems we are able to employ certain strategies that allow us as adults to function at an optimal level on a day to day basis. But, what about our children? What do their nervous systems need in order to allow them to function in a ‘Just Right’ state? How do we find out? And if they are having trouble regulating their nervous systems to attain the ‘Just Right’ level, what strategies can we use to help them?
Some of the children we work with at Evolving Potential have daily challenges when it comes to regulating their nervous systems, making it difficult for them to participate effectively in everyday activities and sometimes getting them into trouble. Therefore, we as OTs reach for strategies such as the “How Does Your Engine Run?” - Alert Program for Self-Regulation that has been specifically designed by Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger, in order to educate and inform adults and children about three different levels of alertness. The program teaches us how to identify our own levels of alertness, what each level means for our bodies and provides strategies that enable us to self-regulate to the ‘Just Right’ state allowing the nervous system to function at an optimal level of arousal. (Shellenberger and Williams, 2016)
The Alert program has adopted terminology relating to ‘Engine Speeds’ in order to successfully describe and teach children how to identify and communicate their alert states. For example, participants are taught that Low Speed may feel like couch potato mode, sluggish and spacey and the body might look droopy or make slow movements. (Shellenberger and Williams, 1996) It may even be described as being an ‘Eeyore’. The Just Right Speed - Optimal State refers to when it is easy for us to listen, learn, play, work, get along with others and have fun! (Shellenberger and Williams, 1996) Or when you feel content like Pooh Bear. High Speed may then be described as overexcited, hyperactive, out of control, not able to listen, learn or work together with others. (Shellenberger and Williams, 1996) This level of arousal may be related to fast movements or being like ‘Tigger’.
In teaching children this terminology and the three states of arousal we are providing them with the knowledge and awareness that will allow them to link how their body feels with how they are behaving. From there the program encourages children to investigate what types of sensory strategies/activities might enable them to change their state of arousal allowing them to reach the optimal level of ‘Just Right’.
Keeping in mind that each nervous system is individual and requires different sensory input at different levels, Evolving Potential OTs trained in presenting the Alert Program are able to work with parents, teachers and children in order to identify individual sensory needs, teach people about the different levels of arousal (Engine Speeds) and work towards finding individualised strategies that allow an optimal arousal (‘Just Right’) level to be reached.
If you know a child or a group of children who you believe may benefit from the “How Does your Engine Run – Self Regulation Alert Program” please feel free to call our office and discuss the program with one of our Occupational Therapists.