What is Sensory Brushing?
When faced with a new or complicated list of symptoms and behaviors, occupational therapists often explore various techniques to address sensory needs. One widely used and effective approach is sensory brushing, which encompasses the Wilbarger Deep Pressure Proprioceptive Technique (DPPT) and the Oral Tactile Technique (OTT). Patricia Wilbarger, a leading expert in the sensory system, is a renowned occupational therapist who developed these techniques to address the sensory defensiveness of protective responses in the nervous system. These techniques offer a structured method to provide therapeutic touch and support self-organization of the mind-brain-body connection.
What are the Types of Sensory Brushing?
- Wilbarger Deep Pressure and Proprioceptive Technique (DPPT): Focuses on deep pressure touch massage and joint compressions to self-organize the mind-brain-body connection.
- Oral Tactile Technique (OTT): Addresses sensory challenges related to the oral cavity, supporting improved oral sensory processing.
When Would You Consider Utilizing a Sensory Brushing Protocol?
A sensory brushing program may be beneficial in various situations where individuals exhibit specific sensory challenges. Sensory brushing is not one size fits all and may not work for all but an OT can consider exploring a sensory brushing program for a child faced with:
1. Tactile Defensiveness:
- Indicators: Fear and discomfort related to being touched, touching objects, or having something touch the skin.
- Potential Benefit: The brushing program is designed to reduce tactile defensiveness and alleviate oversensitive responses to touch.
2. Sensory Seeking:
- Indicators: Individuals displaying sensory-seeking behaviors, actively seeking extra deep pressure and sensory input, such as
- Potential Benefit: Adding controlled deep pressure through the brushing program can assist the body in regulating sensory information, addressing sensory-seeking tendencies.
3. Difficulty with Self-Regulation:
- Indicators: Challenges in self-regulation, including issues with attention, transitioning between activities, motor coordination, functional communication, and safe behaviors.
- Potential Benefit: A sensory brushing program may contribute to improved self-regulation, leading to better attention, smoother transitions, enhanced motor coordination, effective communication, and safer behaviors.
How Does the Wilbarger Protocol Work?
The occupational therapist (OT) recommends the implementation of the Wilbarger Protocol and provides parental training for its administration at home.
- Choose the Right Brush:
- Select a Wilbarger-approved brush, either the basic or deluxe model. The deluxe model with a larger handle offers comfort and control but is optional. Avoid using other brushes, as their pressure consistency may vary.
- Apply Firm, Consistent Pressure:
- Ensure firm and consistent pressure during the brushing process. Light pressure may disorganize the sensory system or lead to increased arousal levels. Sensory brushing should not cause pain, so ensure that it is comfortable for the individual.
- Avoid Stomach, Chest, and Face:
- Refrain from brushing the stomach, which may impact digestion, and the chest, which can affect respiration. Focus on approved areas to maintain safety and effectiveness.
- Keep the brush away from the face, as it is a sensitive area. Instead, use alternatives like a washcloth or warmed lotion to address facial regions.
- Bare Skin is More Effective:
- Ideally, perform sensory brushing on bare skin for maximum effectiveness. If brushing over clothing, ensure the clothing is pulled tight to eliminate bumps and maintain consistent pressure.
- Follow with Joint Compressions:
- Combine brushing with joint compressions to enhance joint perception and feedback, contributing to proprioceptive input through the joints.
- Use Updated Protocols:
- Stay updated on the most recent sensory brushing protocol to align with best practices and recommendations in the field.
- Establish a Routine:
- Implement sensory brushing every 90 minutes to 2 hours, aiming for at least six sessions daily. Each cycle is approximately 3-5 minutes. Avoid brushing within 2-3 hours before bedtime to prevent potential arousal level increases.