Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Brushing and Joint Compressions

Here is my long awaited blog on brushing your child to reduce their tactile sensitivity. If your child loves to be touched and hugs too hard, she will crave the brushing...if he is overly sensitive to touch, he will also crave the brushing.

So what is brushing and what does it do?

First: the brush. Specialty SPD stores carry them. They are similar to massage brushes and have soft plastic bristles. Firm but not scratchy. Do not use a baby will cause too much tickling as the brush is too soft. Order one.

Brushing is a way to reduce tactile defensiveness and provide the correct amount of stimulation to rewire the brain. What you are doing is helping to reduce the fight or flight response. When that happens your child will act out less, have fewer tantrums, calm easier and be able to withstand everyday tactile encounters.

Brushing works best when used with joint compressions. More on that in a minute.

To brush your child, have them lay on their back and start with the arms. Brush one direction firmly (have them indicate how firm) 8 times. Cover the front of the arm. Then do the other arm. Move to the legs and avoid the chest area. Same protocol...8 times firmly in one direction (usually down feels best.)

Have him turn over and do the back, neck, head, both arms and both legs. By now your child is probably very relaxed and feeling great. You can follow the brushing by pushing a pillow down on his legs firmly. He will relax further.

Now you can do the joint compressions. turn your child back over. Start with the hands and at each joint, press the joint together firmly with your fingers...Start with the thumb joints, then fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulders. 10 compressions for each joint. move to the legs and do the same..avoid the feet, since they are usually very sensitive.

You have provided the correct amount of stimulation to your child. he or she should be calm and ready for either sleep or play.

Joint compressions also come in handy when sitting for a long time. take your childs' hand and compress each joint 10 times.

Questions? I am ready to answer them...but brushing and joint compressions are a great tool to use as your child learns to compensate with this disorder. Continued consistent brushing and joint compressions can go a long way toward helping him cope.


  1. Hi LeighAnn,

    Thanks for this post. We used brushing and compressions with my son years ago. He is now in the 5th grade, and we have not used SI techniques for some years. He is very bright, in fact he is in the academically gifted program, however, he struggles with daily tasks - staying focused in class, misplacing work, fights about homework, and most recently he has been getting into trouble in class with his "squirreliness."

    I thought it would be beneficial to re-introduce brushing / compressions. He loves it - he is a child who craves physical stimulation. My question is - how often should we do the routine? Any suggestions for how to incorporate this into his school day?

  2. Hi, Kathi, well, we also had "squirrels" in my son! There are several things that helped...there is a disc you place on his chair in class in which the child has to constantly change positions to balance on. It provides stimulation and allows him to stay focused. You can find it on sensory therapy websites. Also, Chewing is focusing, try letting him chew gum while doing homework, or doing a little homework, then some heavy duty playing, such as riding his bike or a scooter. The sensory websites also have something called "chewy tubes", rubber tubes that go on the end of pencils designed to be chewed on!

    Sensory kids are naturally not organized, and organization may be a real struggle for him. We found that the more technology we employed, the less the organization was an issue. He will use the computer more and more as he advances in grades, my son is allowed to take pictures of notes on white boards with his smart phone, alleviating any struggles with notetaking. Organization is something you may have to help him with at least until he gets into middle school. That is a good time to start really reinforcing the organization.

    As for the joint compressions and brushing, we did both in the morning when he was waking, and in the evening right before going to sleep. You could also use it after school, when he is fried from sitting too long. You might suggest to his teachers that a trip to the water fountain, or taking attendance to the office might help those squirrels to settle a bit.

    Homework should not be a fight, what is the fight about? If it is too much homework, speak with the teachers and ask them to reduce it or to have him do more at school. Is he getting plenty of playtime? or is homework taking all the free time? Give him lots of time to just play and be a kid. If it is he does not want to do the homework, I had my son sign a contract. (this wont work under age 8 or 9) If he followed his end of the contract he could earn points towards an xbox, or an iphone. I also had things I followed, like "not being gripe-y." and not being "picky," and "more fun surprises"..I have seen great improvements in our relationship as he now gets much more of what he wants from me, and gets rewarded for fulfilling his part. Good luck! What worked for us may not work for you, I have found every child is different, but once you hit on what works, it is such a relief to you and to your child! It is worth it!


Please post any comments or questions. I answer all questions posed and if I don't have an immediate answer...I will try to find the answer for you.