How Does Your Engine Run? Our Journey with Sensory Issues – Part 2

If you haven’t read the first Part go here then don’t forget to come back

The Occupational Therapist – we’ll call her Jane. The first few sessions were spent watching C and the activities that he gravitated toward. He would pick things like climbing a ladder, crawling through a tunnel, swinging on a platform – all things that might calm some children but for him it would rev him up. He became completely dysregulated and was always close to being out of control.  Jane began to introduce the Alert program How Does your Engine Run?  C couldn’t do the entire program but we were hopeful something would trigger in his brain and help him.

The concept is simple – imagine your brain as the engine for your body. It has three possible engine speeds in response to stimuli – high, low and just right. The program we actually used the most visuals from was Stick Kids where High is associated with a rabbit, low is associated with a turtle and “just right” is a person.  Jane would do activities with C and after each one have him identify what state he was in and it was amazing to see him wrong almost every time. He had no idea how his engine was running. We brought the visuals home and used them as well. Slowly C began to identify correctly and he started to calm.

At the same time we were doing things like trying out a weighted blanket and a weighted vest. I know many many families that these have worked for – for us they didn’t have the desired effect. But we did find our own solutions through the trial and error such as discovering that if we let our son pick out his own blanket (which had to have a certain feel) that he would fall asleep much faster.

We also used visuals from stickkids. we made up key rings with different activities that were going to help him to remain calm at school and in the community. Ones that worked well for our son were heavy work options like doing wall push ups. Fidgit toys didn’t work well for our son as they unfortunately were a huge distraction to him and then to the entire class. A quick sensory break outside of the class worked much better for all those involved.

And then some strange things started to happen – the boy who never felt/acknowledged pain suddenly felt pain in his foot during a occupational therapy session. A few sessions later he began to feel dizzy – this from the kid that could go on any ride and twirl for hours if you let him – now suddenly he got dizzy.

Following this he began to correctly identify how his engine was running. It didn’t always change the trajectory of his behavior – often times he would say he was running high as he bounded past me and jumped on some person. But we took the steps as they happened.


I truly believe that without Occupational Therapy (OT) we wouldn’t have progressed as much with self regulation/self awareness as we did.

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