Brushing Technique for Autism and SPD

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often experience sensory processing disorder (SPD), which can affect their daily lives and routines. SPD is a condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and interpreting sensory input, leading to sensory issues such as hypersensitivity or hypersensitivity.

Some common examples of SPD include sensory defensiveness, tactile defensiveness, and tactile sensitivity, where certain textures, sounds, or sensations can trigger a strong reaction in the child. These challenges can make it difficult for children with ASD to engage in daily activities such as self-care, social interactions, and learning. That's where the sensory brushing technique for autism and SPD comes in as an effective tool for occupational therapists to address SPD and improve the child's overall well-being.

Occupational therapists have developed a range of techniques and strategies to address SPD and help children with ASD better regulate their sensory systems. One such technique is proprioceptive brushing, a form of sensory brushing that provides deep pressure and tactile input to the skin, muscles, and joints. This technique can help children with SPD by increasing body awareness, improving focus and attention, and reducing sensory defensiveness.

In this blog post, we will explore sensory brushing and its potential benefits for children with ASD and SPD. We will also discuss how it works, how to perform it, and how to address common concerns and adverse reactions. By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of how proprioceptive brushing can be used as a valuable tool in managing sensory issues and promoting sensory integration in children with ASD.

Father and Daughter

What is the Sensory Brushing for ASD and SPD?

Sensory brushing is a very specific technique where an adult (or sometimes the child) puts deep pressure on a very specific type of therapy brush to provide deep pressure input into the skin.

The brush should be checked it is still good for the technique. Surgerical brushes are designed to be disposable, which is cause for concern since these brushes are being used over and over for the sensory brushing technique for autism and sensory processing disorder.

The brushing is supposed to be followed up with joint compressions that provide proprioceptive input to a child's joints.

Who Should use the Brushing Technique for Autism and SPD?

The brushing technique has 2 uses for children with sensory processing disorder or autism. The first is for children with tactile defensiveness. Sensory brushing techniques are used to desensitize children's skin. The other is to provide deep pressure and proprioceptive input for calming purposes.

Boy on swing

How does the Sensory Brushing Protocol Work?

The sensory brushing technique works by providing deep pressure to the skin with a surgical brush and then proprioceptive input through joint compressions. Both deep pressure and proprioceptive input are both calming inputs. They also help desensitize against tactile defensiveness.

What is the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol?

The sensory brushing protocol was developed by Patricia Willbarger. She was an occupational therapist who developed the Wilbarger Protocol, also known as the Therapressure Brushing Protocol. The Wilbarger Protocol is a sensory intervention technique that uses deep pressure and brushing of the skin to provide sensory input to the nervous system, which can help improve sensory processing and reduce sensory defensiveness.

Wilbarger developed this protocol in the 1970s while working with children with sensory processing disorders, including those with autism spectrum disorder. She observed that many of these children had tactile defensiveness, where they had a strong aversion to touch and certain textures. She also noted that they often had poor body awareness and struggled with activities that required coordination and planning.

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The Wilbarger Protocol has since become a widely recognized and commonly used technique in occupational therapy for treating sensory processing disorders, particularly in children with autism spectrum disorder. It involves using a soft surgical brush to provide deep pressure and brushing to specific areas of the body, such as the arms, legs, and back, for a set period of time. The goal is to provide sensory input that can help regulate the nervous system and improve the child's ability to process sensory information.

Wilbarger's contributions to occupational therapy have been significant, as her work has helped improve the lives of countless children and adults with sensory processing disorders. Her Wilbarger Protocol has become a widely recognized and effective sensory intervention technique, and her research has helped advance our understanding of sensory processing and its impact on daily functioning.

The Oral Deep Pressure Protocol

Willbarger also developed a technique to insensitive the mouth for those who are orally defensive or are picky eaters due to oral tactile sensitivities. I have found this technique to be effective in my practice to reduce these problems.

How do I Learn the Sensory Brushing Technique for Autism and SPD?

In order to learn the Wilbarger brushing protocol, you should learn it from a specially trained occupational therapist. You should not learn it from YouTube, another parent, or an OT who was not trained in the technique.

Why I am Passionate about Who you Should Learn From

  • I learned from Patricia Willbarger herself
  • Patricia required us to brush her in the course. And NO ONE did it correctly at first
  • This is a hands-on technique and can not be learned by watching
  • I was trained by an OT who thought she was doing the technique correctly and she was not. I was doing it ALL WRONG
  • Adverse reactions can be very strong. I have seen children being brushed incorrectly and they were then put into a fight or flight response. They were then also scared of being brushed.
  • If a child does not like being brushed, they are probably being brushed wrong.

What Can you Do Instead of Sensory Brushing if you can not Learn from an OT?

I believe in using ONLY joint compressions with the children I work with, both those with autism and sensory processing disorder. Even though I was trained by Patricia Willbarger herself and I feel very comfortable teaching other OTs and parents the technique, I find there is too much room for error. When I teach parents I require them to brush me. I also do the same when I teach joint compressions.

I encourage you to develop a strong sensory diet for your child that provides calming inputs such as deep pressure and proprioceptive input without brushing. Learn more about what a sensory diet is and how it works in this article.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) can significantly affect the daily lives and routines of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sensory brushing works by providing deep pressure to the skin and proprioceptive input through joint compressions, which can help regulate the nervous system and improve sensory processing. The Wilbarger Protocol is a widely recognized sensory intervention technique, developed by occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger, which involves using a soft surgical brush to provide deep pressure and brushing to specific areas of the body.

It is crucial to note that learning the Wilbarger brushing protocol should only be done through a specially trained occupational therapist, and the technique should not be learned through YouTube or other sources. Adverse reactions can be strong, so the proper technique is essential, and joint compressions can be an alternative approach.

The sensory brushing program is just one of many techniques and strategies developed by occupational therapists to address SPD and help children with ASD better regulate their sensory systems, ultimately making it easier for them to engage in daily activities, social interactions, and learning.

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