One of my sons has what the occupational therapists call “sensory defensiveness.” Basically this means he recoils and tries to avoid any sensory or motor input that he doesn’t like. Sounds normal—I think I do this too! Except in my son’s case, what he is sensitive to is exaggerated or inaccurate: he feels pain when his limb has been in the same position for awhile, or he feels tickled if someone touches him at all; he also feels far away when he is not, or he thinks something is wet when he sees water but there is none actually on him. He recoils from almost all people trying to touch him (except me), and his body is normally in characteristic unfriendly, defensive postures.
So the occupational therapist recommended the standard sensory brush program, which is used to treat a lot of kids with sensory dysfunction. I thought I’d replicate the worksheet that she gave me here, just for someone else’s benefit…
“The exact cause of sensory defensiveness is not known. It may be an exaggeration of one’s normal defense mechanisms. A large number of individuals with sensory defensiveness also have family members with sensory defensiveness. Sensory deprivation is known to exaggerate defensive responses. Stress, abuse, ans some kinds of central nervous system problems also seem to produce defensiveness.
“Deep pressure touch, compression or traction to the joints, and heavy muscle action together is a special combination to reduce or eliminate sensory defensiveness.
The Procedure takes only enough time to brush the entire surface of the arms, hands, legs, back, with a few firm strokes and to push on each joint for approximately 10 seconds. It should not take more than 2-3 minutes.
- remove socks and shoes
- pull up sleeves and pant legs
- hold the brush horizontal
- start brushing the palm by brushing backward and forward all the way up the arm until you reach the child’s shirt; turn the brush vertically if you wish to brush over the clothing up to the shoulder
- Turn the hand to palms down and repeat this step only in reverse working from shoulder to fingers.
- Repeat on other arm, legs, feet; both backs and front
- brush the back (hold brush vertically over clothing if necessary)
It is generally believed that the effects of brushing last for approximately two hours. By applying the technique every two hours, the individual will feel more normal over a whole day. It appears that after a period of time, the body’s sensory threshold is reset to be less or not at all defensiveness.
“Each individual responds to the brushing program differently and will need to continue for a different length of time. It is often helpful to begin for two weeks and then reassess the level of defensiveness. At that time, the therapist can make a further recommendation to continue or modify the program.
- Never brush the stomach, head, neck, or chest.
- Never brush a child under 2 months old
- Never brush a child who is upset
- Never brush wounds, rashes, or sunburns
- Do not brush too hard (scratches) or too light (tickling).
“Joint Compression (“Squishies”)
Apply 10 gentle “squishies” or presses to the following joints. Positioning of the hands is very important to this technique. Do each arm and leg. Get a model before attempting.
Place both hands on the top of the child’s head and apply 10 gentle presses downward. Place each hand on a shoulder and press 10 times.
Place one hand just behind the shoulder and the other over the elbow joint. Hold the arm straight out with the thumb pointed to ceiling and apply pressure inwards toward the shoulder joint 10 times.
Place one hand just above the elbow and the other hand in the child’s hand. With the elbow slightly flexed, apply pressure into the elbow joint 10 times.
Place your thumb into the plam of the child’s hand with the remaining finger on the back of the child’s hand. With the other hand, cup the child’s finger or thumb with your fingers placing the tips of your fingers around the first knuckle joint and apply pressure downward into the finger joints—do each separately 10 times each.
Place one hand on the lower back/hip region and the other on the bottom of the foot. Apply pressure at the foot into the hip joint 10 times. “