Sensory processing challenges (SPD) are common in children and adults, and can impact everything from emotions, behavior, and learning. Sensory brushing, also known as brushing therapy, is a technique that can help individuals with sensory defensiveness, tactile sensitivity, and general sensory dysregulation. In this article, we'll explore what sensory brushing is, how it works, and its potential benefits. Parents – read on to learn more about this beneficial therapy!
What Is Sensory Brushing For?
Sensory input is just another way of talking about the things that we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. So, when you feel the softness of a fluffy pillow or the taste of a sweet treat, that's sensory input! Our brains use all of these different kinds of sensory input to help us understand and interact with the world around us. Sometimes our brains might have trouble processing all of this input, and that's when sensory therapy techniques like sensory brushing can be helpful.
Sensory brushing is a technique that uses a special brush, often called an occupational therapy brush, to help people who have trouble processing sensory information. The brush has soft, flexible bristles that are gentle on the skin, and it's designed to provide deep pressure stimulation and sensory input to the body. This stimulation can help people feel more aware of their body and improve their ability to handle different sensations. The brush is used by gently moving it over the skin in a specific pattern, and this movement sends signals to the peripheral nervous system (providing proprioceptive and tactile input) that help the body better process sensory information. It's like giving the body a gentle massage to help it feel more comfortable and relaxed. It should never hurt or be uncomfortable.
Even if you don't have a diagnosed sensory disorder, this brushing can still be helpful for you. Sensory brushing is a technique that can improve how your body processes information and make you feel more comfortable. It can help reduce stress, anxiety, and hyperactivity and improve your ability to relax and sleep better. Additionally, if you have trouble focusing, sensory brushing can help you become more aware of your body and improve your focus on the present moment. Although sensory brushing is often used as part of therapy for people with SPD, it can also be a helpful tool for anyone who feels overwhelmed, has anxiety, struggles with focus, and more.
How Does Sensory Brushing Work?
Sensory brushing works by providing deep sensory therapy to the central nervous system. The technique is based on sensory integration theory, which says that the brain can be rewired to improve sensory processing through sensory input. When sensory input is provided in a consistent and organized way, the brain can better process and respond to sensory information.
Basically, it can help the brain get better at understanding and reacting to sensory information. Think of it like exercising your brain to help it get stronger and work better with the sensory input you receive all day long.
Sensory brushing is often used in conjunction with other sensory integration therapy techniques, like joint compression and rapid vestibular movement, to provide even more sensory input to the body. Trained occupational therapists often use sensory brushing as a tool to support patients with SPD.
What is Wilbarger Brushing Protocol for ADHD?
So, you know how we have five senses - sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing - that help us understand the world around us? Sometimes, our body can react to these senses in a way that is different from what we expect. For example, someone might feel very uncomfortable when they touch something that is bumpy, or they might get scared when they hear a loud noise. This is called sensory defensiveness. It's like our body is overreacting to the information it's getting from our senses.
It's important to remember that everyone's body is different and can react to things in different ways. Some people might be more sensitive to certain types of input, while others might not be as affected. That's okay! There are ways to help people who experience sensory defensiveness feel more comfortable and in control.
The Wilbarger protocol is a therapeutic brushing technique that is widely used to reduce sensory defensiveness and help individuals with these processing challenges. While it has been used in individuals with ADHD, it is not specifically designed for ADHD, but for people that have tactile defensiveness.
The first step of the Wilbarger brushing protocol involves using a specific type of sensory brush, like a therapressure brush or surgical brush, with a firm (but not painful) pressure, so the sensory brushes glide gently on the skin.
The brush is applied to the body in a specific pattern, typically starting at the arms and goes down to the feet. Very sensitive areas like the face, stomach, and chest are never brushed. The second step in the protocol is gentle joint compressions to provide deep sensory therapy to the nervous system. These can also be done through self-administration with exercises like jumping jacks and push-ups.
The protocol is designed to provide deep pressure stimulation, which can help decrease tactile defensiveness, over-responsiveness to touch, and improve our ability to relax. It's believed that the deep pressure touch provided by the brush and joint compressions may stimulate touch receptors in the skin, which then sends signals to the central nervous system to decrease protective responses and increased self-regulation.
It is important to note that the Wilbarger brushing protocol should only be performed by trained occupational therapists or other healthcare professionals with experience in sensory integration therapy. The protocol should only be performed under the guidance (or training) of a professional.
While parents can be trained to do the Wilbarger brushing protocol at home, it's really important to get proper training first! That's because using the wrong technique or too much pressure can actually be uncomfortable or even do harm. So if you're interested in trying this technique at home, it's best to talk to an occupational therapist who can teach you how to do it safely and effectively. That way, you can make sure you're doing everything right and helping your child get the most benefit from the technique.
What Are The Benefits Of Therapeutic Brushing?
The benefits of sensory brushing are many, including:
Decreased anxiety and fear:
Brushing can help calm the nervous system, leading to decreased anxiety and fear in both children and adults struggling with sensory issues.
When we feel anxious or afraid, our nervous system can become overstimulated, leading to feelings of stress and discomfort. This brushing helps to stimulate receptors in the skin, giving proprioceptive & tactile input to the body that can help to soothe and regulate the nervous system.
The pressure from the brush can also activate the body's natural protective responses, which can help to decrease anxiety and fear.
Improved ability to self-regulate:
By providing moderate and consistent touch input, brushing can help improve self-regulation skills in those with sensory issues.
The gentle pressure and tactile input from the brush can increase body awareness, helping people become more mindful of their physical sensations and better able to manage their emotional responses. By providing a calming and grounding experience, brushing can help people develop better emotional and behavioral self-control skills over time.
Reduced tactile defensiveness:
Brushing can help decrease tactile defensiveness, or over-responsiveness to touch.
Tactile defensiveness is when someone's body gets really upset by certain types of touch or feelings on their skin, like the feeling of clothing tags, different materials, certain textures of food, or even being touched by other people. This can cause discomfort, anxiety, fear, and even pain, and can often lead to avoiding the activities or situations that involve those sensations. Sometimes, people who have trouble with this might also have other challenges with their senses. It can be related to neurodevelopmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it can also exist without other medically diagnosed conditions.
Improved ability to transition:
By providing a calming and organizing sensory experience, brushing can help people with sensory processing disorder better transition between activities and environments.
Therapeutic brushing techniques can help improve a person's ability to transition by providing deep pressure stimulation to their body. Deep pressure can help regulate the body's nervous system and increase feelings of calm and relaxation, which can make it easier for someone to transition from one activity or environment to another.
Brushing can also increase body awareness and proprioception, which is a sense that helps us understand where our body is in space. This increased awareness and sense of control over our body can help someone feel more confident and in control during transitions too.
Basically, by using brushing as an emotional regulation tool, a person can improve their ability to transition and move through their day easier.
How Is Sensory Brushing Used In Occupational Therapy?
Brushing is often used as part of the Wilbarger Protocol, a deep pressure technique developed by clinical psychologist Patricia Wilbarger. The Wilbarger Protocol involves using a special therapressure brush to apply deep pressure to the skin, followed by gentle joint compressions, and when appropriate a third step called the Oral Tactile Technique. The technique can help soothe fears and reduce oral defensiveness. Oral defensiveness is when someone doesn't like certain things in their mouth, like specific foods or textures. It might make them feel uncomfortable, gag, or even throw up. This can make it hard to eat a variety of foods or try new things.
Occupational therapists use sensory brushing as a therapeutic technique to help children and adults with sensory processing challenges. The therapist will use a sensory brush to apply gentle pressure to the skin, focusing on areas with high concentrations of touch receptors, such as the hands and feet. The brushing portion of the therapy is followed by gentle joint compressions, which can further stimulate the proprioceptive system and provide calming input to the body.
If you're interested in incorporating occupational and sensory brushing into your daily routine or therapy sessions, you might be wondering where to start when it comes to purchasing the right brush. You can usually order occupational therapy equipment through the professional you're working with, but if you're looking for alternatives or want a spare brush, we've put together a list of sensory brushes that we recommend for their quality and effectiveness.
Click to see our top picks for sensory brushes that can be used at home or during occupational therapy sessions.
Sensory brushing can be a powerful tool for individuals with sensory processing challenges or even people who have anxiety and/or are dealing with a lot of stress. By providing deep pressure and sensory input to the skin, sensory brushing can help improve self-regulation skills, reduce anxiety, and decrease tactile defensiveness. If you're interested in trying sensory brushing for yourself or with your own child, it's important to learn from a trained occupational therapist or professional who can provide the proper guidance and support.