The Wilbarger Brushing Technique: What Is It And How Can It Help?

What Is The Wilbarger Brushing Protocol?

The Wilbarger Deep Pressure and Proprioceptive Technique was developed by Patricia Wilbarger, Med, OTR, FAOTA. Based on the theory of Sensory Integration, the brushing technique uses a specific method of stimulation to help the brain organize sensory information.

Our skin is our largest sensory organ, followed closely by our muscles and skeleton, connected by our nervous system and governed by our brain. The sensory system feeds information from our environment, via our central nervous system, directly to our brain. The brain then organizes it, and sends it back through the nervous system for the purposes of understanding, adapting, learning and skill development. When our nervous system functions well, it allows a person to interact with their environment efficiently, developing necessary motor and language skills as well as appropriate social/emotional behavior. When our system is unable to organize the information appropriately, a variety of symptoms can be present: motor delays, tactile defensiveness, learning disorders, social or emotional difficulties, speech and language deficits and attention disorders.

Many children have atypical sensory processing. They have difficulties with too much (hypersensitive) or too little sensory (hyposensitive) inputs, including tactile inputs (touch) and proprioception inputs (deep pressure). This can be called the Goldilocks and The Three Bears Principle. Not too much, not too little, just the right amount of touch and proprioception is desired. The Wilbarger technique is used to help children widen their “just right” zone so they are not as hyper- or hyposensitive to touch and proprioception. You should notice gradual improvement with tactile and proprioception sensitivity and seeking behaviors when you consistently apply this technique.

The Purpose and Benefits:

  • Can improve ability to transition between activities (calming after emotional outburst, improving tolerance levels).
  • Can help children who have a fear or discomfort of being touched (tactile defensiveness).
  • Can increase self-regulation and self-calming.
  • Can increase the ability of the nervous system to use information from the senses more effectively, i.e. speech and/or motor.
  • Can improve attention and focus.
  • Children generally like the procedure!

The Wilbarger Brushing Technique should be introduced and practiced with a caregiver by the child’s occupational therapist so it can be integrated into the their daily routine. The technique uses a surgical scrub brush just like the brush that surgeons use to scrub their hands and arms before surgery. This plastic brush is not rough and will not scratch. It provides just the right amount of pressure and sensations to the skin.