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Wilbarger Brushing Protocol

The Wilbarger Approach to Sensory Defensiveness (commonly referred to as “brushing” is a highly individualized intervention protocol used to treat sensory defensiveness, particularly tactile defensiveness. The approach consists of education, individualized sensory diet activities and intervention from a professional trained in sensory integration theory and practice.

Tactile defensiveness and hypersensitivity happens when the nervous system does not interpret touch sensations and stimulation accurately, resulting in a child responding with fear, avoidance, withdrawal, or acting out with a “fight-or-flight” response to sensory stimuli. A child’s avoidance of tactile experiences and lack of engagement in tactile play ultimately limits his learning experiences and development of gross and fine motor skills. Functional implications of tactile defensiveness include avoidance of certain clothing textures; refusal to wear socks or shoes; discomfort with bare feet in sand, grass or on carpet; irritation from tags in clothing; and becoming bothered by various, every-day touch experiences that typically would not cause alarm or issues for others.

The Wilbarger Approach to Sensory Defensiveness can be used as early as the age of 2 months and into adulthood. The protocol requires use of a specific therapeutic, surgical brush that provides deep pressure tactile input and stimulation to the child’s legs, arms, hands, feet and back. The brushing is always followed by joint compressions at the head, shoulders, trunk, arms and legs to enhance joint perception and feedback, and to re-train the child’s brain to help identify and process various tactile inputs appropriately. The goal of the approach is to help clients develop more appropriate responses to sensory experiences through the use of enhanced sensation.

Many clinicians have found this protocol to be useful for treating other sensory processing difficulties as it generally helps to organize the central nervous system. From a sensory integrative frame of reference and what we DO know about the effectiveness of deep touch pressure and proprioceptive input on brain chemistry and processing.  Using this protocol to address areas other than sensory defensiveness needs to be discussed and monitored by very knowledgeable and experienced clinicians with specific sensory integration/sensory processing training.