Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

November 20, 2014

How Does My Engine Run?- The Alert Program


An occupational therapist often refers to a child’s activity level like a car engine. Each child’s engine runs differently and can change arousal speeds throughout the day. These changes can be a result of what is going on during their lives or the activities they partake in each day.

The Williams and Shellenberger Engine Program describes 3 different engine speeds: High, “Just Right” and Low. The way a child modulates, or takes in and regulates the multiple inputs and stimuli, has a huge impact on his or her engine level.


A high engine speed results when there is a strong and increased response to sensory input. The child with a high engine speed usually has difficulty concentrating, sitting still or completing tasks.

A low engine speed results when there is a slow and decreased response to sensory input. The child with a low engine speed may also find it hard to focus be alert and tend to drift off in their own world or feel like they are lacking energy. A “just right” engine speed means the child is maintaining the necessary energy to remain focused and alert to complete tasks without extra effort or difficulty.

The child’s engine may fluctuate throughout the day so it is important for the child to learn to be able to recognize what state his or her engine is in. If the child is aware of his or state, this will allow him or her to provide the needed input to themselves to change their engine speed to the alertness level appropriate and maintain that arousal level.

There are many ways to change and regulate how alert your engine is and the engine program has five specific categories: putting certain foods in your mouth, movement, touch, look, and listen.

The website,, offers more information.