We all have things in life we don’t like the feel of…. Sand on the feet for one person is annoying, whilst someone else might love it.  Everyone has different sensory preferences.  Just because someone does not like something sensory, does not mean they have a disorder, rather a preference to particular things.  When the preference interferes with their emotions, behaviour or performance in daily tasks, we need to look at how we can help the child to overcome this. Brushing is one option that can sooth the sensory system.

What is ‘sensory defensiveness’? First we need to think about our senses. They are the 5 we know well: vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch. But this also includes: vestibular and proprioception. Our vestibular sense contributes to our balance and movement especially in relation to our head position. Our proprioceptive sense contributes to our body awareness especially without vision.

Our sensory systems have 2 components: a discriminative component and an evaluative component. The discriminative component allows us to describe the world eg. Dark blue vs sky blue, crunchy vs smooth, country vs opera, rough vs smooth, smell of bacon vs roast chicken, spinning vs swinging, and achieving a successful ponytail.

The evaluative system assists us to make decisions about our safety. This system provides information about pain, itch, tickle and temperature. It has a fast pathway – Who has jumped at the watering hose thinking it was a snake? It seemed we jumped without thinking.

It also has a slow pathway. When bush walking, who has taken their time to think about a tickle in the bottom of their trousers? Is that a grass seed? Could that be something else?

These are questions about realistic concerns. For some people, their evaluative system responds to typically non-aversive objects as if they are dangerous. In this instance we might have experience of babies who seem to hate being laid back to have a nappy changed, children who lash out at others when they are lining up in school, have a very limited diet due to dislike of certain food textures and run away from the table.

These actions describe the ‘flight,fright,fight’ response to stress and anxiety.

The great thing about the proprioceptive system is that generally it produces a sense of wellbeing due to chemical release in the brain and is calming.  Who has felt better after a stomp around the block?  This is where sensory brushing can become a benefit.  What is sensory brushing?  Sensory brushing is part of the ‘The Therapressure program’ which boosts the release of these chemicals in the brain to have a calming effect on children.  Children and parents/care givers are provided with a special brush to use at home daily. We go through the brushing technique and routine to ensure the best effect occurs.  We see great results when sensory brushing is implemented for children in many areas, such as increased ability to complete tasks, children being more settled and able to stay attended for longer, and being less reactive to siblings.

Sarah Lilburne, Occupational Therapist