Sensory Processing Disorder: What You Can Do Before You Find an OT

Updated: a day ago

If you've been around the Children In Motion for very long, you probably have read something about sensory processing. And if you have read something about sensory processing then you definitely know about self regulation.

If you haven't heard of self regulation before, I suggest you check out this post where I explain self regulation and what contributes to it, give examples of what effective & ineffective regulation looks like, and then leave you with a handful of ways you can help your child stay regulated (plus I included a really great freebie).

Now that you have a better understanding of self regulation, I would like to walk you through the specific process that I use when I'm treating children with self regulation challenges in hopes that you could do this with your child and that it would make a huge difference for your family.

The first step in addressing self regulation challenges is to understand the different levels of regulation and to be able to identify where your child's engine is running. I use the Alert Program® from Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger* when I'm trying to explain self regulation to my kiddos and their families. There are three levels of regulation-


Green/Just Right


During my treatment sessions I will periodically ask so & so, "where is your engine?". Or I'll verbally evaluate where my engine is with my kiddos. The goal is to always be in green, but we all know that is pretty hard to do! Let's take a look at what each level of regulation can look like.


Can look like...

-having trouble controlling body

-moving too fast

-having trouble following directions

-making unsafe choices

-using loud voice

-out of control

-tense body posture

-mad, scared, overexcited, or anxious

-code words: "I hate you" "You're not my friend" Bathroom talk

--> needs calming or organizing input <--


Can look like...

-moving slow


-having difficulty transitioning


-poor posture

-low tone/voice

-sad, lonely

-low self esteem

-little to no persistence

-code words: "I don't know" "I can't decide" "In a minute"

--> needs alerting input <--

Green/Just Right

Can look like...

-making good choices

-being a good listener

-working well in a team

-easy to learn

-good posture



It's important to observe your child for any patterns with their engine level. For example, your child could repeatedly slip into a red engine when it comes time for them to do homework. Another example is you notice your child frequently has a red engine when you go to birthday parties or are in an environment where there is a lot of commotion. A last example could be when your child comes home from school everyday their engine is running on blue because they are so exhausted from the school day.

Once you have a grasp on where your child's engine runs, you can then start to implement specific strategies to keep them in green.

  • When an engine is running high, it needs calming or organizing sensory input to help bring it down to green. Calming input could be rhythmical music, muscle work, chewing gum, or drinking a milkshake.

  • When an engine is running low, it will need alerting sensory input to bring it back up. Some examples of alerting input are unpredictable music, muscle work (muscle work is both calming and alerting), movement breaks, and/or a sour snack.

There are tons of strategies out there, you just have to experiment and see what works best for your child. Self regulation plays a huge part in your child's life, so it's definitely worth putting in the extra time and resources if you feel your child is struggling.

Additionally, I would suggest you go check out the Alert Program® at to gain a better understanding of their work & how they approach self regulation. If you have any other concerns or questions, you can always shoot me an email or give me a call as well.

Last thing - I have a resource for you if you are interested! We've created a list of calming and alerting strategies for you to try out. Just as a reminder, when your child's engine is in red, they need calming or organizing input. When their engine is in blue, they need alerting input.

Make sure you grab it below and let me know what you think!

Grab your free list of 21 calming & alerting strategies for self regulation here!

*Williams, M.S., & Shellenberger, S. (1996). “How Does Your Engine Run?”® A leader’s guide to the Alert Program® for self-regulation. Albuquerque, NM: TherapyWorks, Inc. website:

make sure you get your freebies!

Kids Blowing Bubbles

57 Strategies to  Use at Home & In School for Self Regulation

Green Slime

21 Calming & Alerting Strategies for Self Regulation

Children Playing in Bouncy Castle

Interactive Engine Speedo-meter for Self Regulation

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5655 Peachtree Parkway Norcross, GA 30092 Suite 117

photography by Lydia Chang