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The Wilbarger Protocol

Updated on June 27, 2011

Brushing Therapy for Children Who Have Problems with Touch

The Wilbarger Protocol has been used for years to help children who have problems with touch. This protocol has been used successfully with children who have sensory integration problems (SPD), ADD, ADHD and Autism.

There are many children that have an unusual response to different types of touch. Normal touches can be irritating or even painful. They can be very sensitive to clothing, typical clothing can feel scratchy, uncomfortable or even painful. Sensitivity to touch is referred to by Occupational Therapists as tactile defensiveness.

The Wilbarger Protocol is a therapy program designed to help children who have problems with touch, or are tactile defensive. This therapy was developed by Patricia Wilbarger, MEd, OTR, FAOTA. Many children have responded well to the protocol improving their reaction to touch, which has led to positive behavioral changes including lowered anxiety. Some of the benefits of the Wilbarger Protocol may also include improved attention span, enhanced coordination, and children simply feeling more comfortable with their bodies.

Brushing therapy only takes 2-3 minutes for each session. Children are brushed with a Wilbarger Brush using firm pressure. (You can also use a less expensive sensory brushes.)Brushing starts at the arms and works down to the feet. However, the face, chest, and stomach area are never brushed. When starting brushing therapy a therapist may recommend brushing every couple of hours while the child is awake. The intensity of the brushing usually goes down after about two weeks. Brushing continues as long as the child continues to make improvements.

Along with brushing therapy, joint compressions to the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees/ankles, and sternum for a count of ten may also be recommended. This can feel very calming for children. If a child really enjoys joint compression you can teach them to treat themselves whenever they feel the need for it. Some common joint compression exercises include pushing against a wall, jumping-jacks, push-ups, or jumping on a trampoline.

The last phase of the Wilbarger Protocol is called the Oral Tactile Technique, or OTT. OTT is designed to help children with sensitivities to food and textures in the mouth. OTT is simply carefully massaging the inside of the child's mouth. This is helpful for kids with oral defensiveness. These children may have trouble with certain textures of foods or have difficulties with brushing their teeth.

Before starting the Wilbarger Protocol with your child you should get trained by an Occupational Therapist. They should understand sensory integration and be trained in the Wilbargar Protocol. If the protocol is not followed correctly, it may not be effective and may cause the child a lot of discomfort.

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