Helping People Sensitive to Touch

The Wilbarger Protocol (also referred to as brushing therapy) is often a part of a sensory integration or sensory therapy program. It involves brushing the body with a small surgical brush throughout the day. People who exhibit symptoms of tactile defensiveness are extremely sensitive to touch. They often fear or resist being touched, have difficulty transitioning between activities, and may be lethargic. This therapy was developed by Patricia Wilbarger, MEd, OTR, FAOTA.

The complete protocol usually takes 2-3 minutes to administer. The first step involves using a soft, plastic, sensory brush or Therapressure Brush which is run over the child’s skin, using very firm pressure; it is like a deep pressure massage. Brushing starts at the arms and works down to the feet. The face, chest, and stomach area are never brushed because these are very sensitive areas. Brushing these areas may cause adverse reactions including vomiting.

There is not much documented research on the Wilbarger Protocol. However, many parents of children with autism have reported seeing decreases in sensory defensiveness and anxiety as a result of using this technique. Some of the benefits may include improved ability to transition between daily activities, improved attention span, a decreased fear or discomfort of being touched, enhanced coordination, and better self-regulation.