"Keep Your Engine Running": Occupational Therapist (and New Certified HUG Teacher) Discovers The HUG

Terrin Henderson from Fair Oaks, California, has served young families for years and in many capacities. She has been an occupational therapist for 34 years, a childbirth educator for 21 years, a post-partum educator for 13 years, and a health educator for 6 years, and now a Certified HUG Teacher for one day!! These days she puts her many skills to her work at San Juan Unified School District and Sutter Health where she facilitates new parent support groups and teaches classes. Like many of us, Terrin also brings her personal experiences to her professional life. Married for 31 years, she had the adventure of being the mother of four, mother-in-law to two, and grandmother of 14-month old, Liv. 

I work as a pediatric occupational therapist in a large California school district 4 days a week. The children I work with are all special education students, ages 3 to 18, with developmental and behavioral disorders such as autism, ADHD, developmental coordination disorder, and emotional disturbances. One day a week I facilitate support groups for new parents and teach newborn care classes at a local medical center. Recently,  I discovered the HUG certification program on the ICEA website.  When I began to hear Jan teach about "Zones” and “SOSs” I had my first “Ah-Ha!” moment.  I was delighted to connect the dots between my two careers during my HUG studies.

Pediatric occupational therapists often use a program called “How Does Your Engine Run? The Alert Program for Self-Regulation.”  This program teaches children, and their teachers and parents, how to keep their “engines” (bodies and minds) running “Just Right,” rather than “too high” (over arousal) or “too low” (under arousal) so that the student can attend, learn, socialize, and function to an optimal level in their environment.  Students explore what sensory inputs can help them get to and stay in the “Just Right” state. Teachers learn to scan their classes for their students’ alertness level and to change sensory input to get their students ready to learn.

The Alert Program talks about"5 Ways” to change your engine level:
  • Put something in your mouth (oral motor input)     
  • Move (vestibular/proprioceptive input)
  • Touch (tactile input)
  • Look (visual input)
  • Listen (auditory input)

It was exciting to see that HUG Your Baby uses these same principals to teach new parents how to look at their newborns and watch for "SOSs" - - Signs of Over-Stimulation (their little engines "running too high") and to offer support to bring a baby to the "Ready Zone" (or “Just Right”). Sucking, swaying, swinging, swaddling, looking at a parent’s face, and shushing or soft singing  are other examples of techniques offered in The HUG material.   

Special needs babies often need extra support to get to the "Ready Zone," as  newborns need help with self-regulation, just as school-aged children do. When effective calming techniques are used and a baby  is still difficult to console, it is important that a health care provider evaluate the child to determine if additional professional help is appropriate. 

Training those who work with new families in The HUG techniques will increase parents' confidence, make parenting more enjoyable, and also help parents know when evaluation of atypical behavior is indicated.