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10/02/2016 | BlogBody and movementSensory

Helping your child understand their sensory needs…


With the school year into first gear, you may be noticing that your child may be showing some signs of tiredness or fatigue.  Perhaps they want to chill out in front of the tv after school, maybe they are very grumpy, more prone to tears, more sensitive than usual.  This happens to the best of us when we are under stress or when our bodies or minds are physically tired. As adults, we can usually explain or justify any emotional outbursts, or lack of patience – a tough day at work or a deadline we need to meet – and we often have ways of managing this – hitting the gym, relaxing with a cup or tea or calling a friend. Kids however, often find it hard to put their feelings and responses into words and may have trouble independently calming themselves down. This is particularly the case when it’s not only a new school year, or a busy week triggering these emotional or physical responses.  Children with sensory processing disorder face significant challenges daily with understanding and managing their physical and emotional responses.  Occupational therapists help kids with sensory processing challenges in many ways and utitlising many tools.  One of which is the Alert Program.

The Alert program helps educate children about their own sensory needs. The program is designed to help improve attention, concentration, help kids understand their feelings and ultimately promote self-regulation. Self-regulation is a person’s ability to adjust and control their own energy level, emotions, behaviours and attention.

The Alert program coaches children on individualised strategies that can help them support their own wellbeing, concentration and attention. The program associates the body with being a car, and that all cars need an engine to run. Sometimes our body’s ‘engine’ will run ‘too fast’ and sometimes our engine will run ‘too slow’, but sometimes it will run ‘just right’.

Each engine level is associated with particular feelings or arousal states of the body.  It provides vocabulary, activities and an environment to help children recognise and regulate their own arousal states.

Too High can manifest as feeling sad, stressed, angry, frustrated or worried. In these states we find it hard to concentrate, listen and think and to a certain extent function to the best of our abilities.

Just Right can manifest as feeling happy, calm, relaxed, attentive, listening and looking. This is our optimal state of arousal where we are able to learn and process information appropriately and react to situation with confidence and to the best of our abilities

Too Low can manifest as feeling tired, lethargic, or bored. In these states we again find it hard to concentrate, listen, think, attend and function to the best of our abilities.

Once the basic principles of the alert program are learned, an individualised activity plan or ‘sensory diet’ (an activity plan) is made.  These activity plans are based on each child’s sensory needs and activities could be based on touch, sight, sounds, smell and tastes, but are most commonly based on vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (pressure) activities. The following is an example of a sensory diet:


–        5 knee push ups (pressure and movement)

–        10 star jumps/ jumps on the trampoline (pressure and movement)

–        Sitting on an exercise ball while eating breakfast (pressure and movement)

During school day

–        Putting chairs up at end of day (pressure)

–        Helping the teacher hand out work sheet (movement, organisation)

–        Wall push ups when lining up outside class (pressure, movement)

–        Regular movement breaks such as getting a drink of water (movement and oral motor, cold = alerting)


–        3 deep breathes before bed (oral motor, pressure)

–        Reading a book in a bean bag (pressure, organisation)

–        Having a warm drink (oral motor, taste, warm = calm)

The program is recommended for kids aged 4 years and above. The largest benefit of the program is that it can give children a greater understanding of their own sensory needs and feelings as well as empower them to take control of and understand their own body and emotions.

Sensational Kids Occupational Therapists use alert program principles within their session and can develop individualised home programs based on your child’s individual learning and sensory motor profile. If you require further information or would like to book an appointment give our administration team a call on 03 9578 7560 (Ormond) or 03 8560 4050 (Moonee Ponds).

Tim Stone

Occupational Therapist

Sensational Kids


  1. Michelle — 3 February 2019 — 12:50 pm

    I need to work out a sensory diet for my 15yr old ADHD boy at home.

  2. Fran Nicholson — 3 February 2019 — 11:13 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    Our OTs can help with this. Please feel free to call our clinics and meet one of our friendly team. We have clinics in both Moonee Ponds and Ormond. Kind regards, Fran