The Organising Effect of Deep Pressure Brushing

Deep pressure is one of most effective sensory tools for organising the nervous system in children who present with sensory processing difficulties. When a child’s autonomic nervous system is poorly regulated, he may easily over- or under-react to various types of sensory input. For example, he might misinterpret certain types of touch, and may find some touch input very uncomfortable or even threatening. This might make him avoid that type of input, and his behaviour might become disorganised. Loud noises, as well as low and high pitched sounds, might be experienced as overly alerting for the child and he may find it difficult to maintain his attention and focus in such situations. He could display disorganised and even disruptive behaviour.

The impact of deep pressure to the skin and the impact of deep pressure massage has long been known to have an organising effect on the autonomic nervous system. This is because the pathways involved in transmitting deep touch pressure input to the nervous system are “organising” pathways, while those that convey light touch, pain, and tickling sensations are more likely to be disorganising and to have a disruptive effect on the nervous system.

Simply applying deep pressure input by massaging your child with your hands can be very organising for the child. Using a brush to provide deep pressure to the skin is often hugely beneficial. The brush is used in much the same manner as massage would be applied. It is important to learn from an Occupational Therapist what amount of pressure should be applied when brushing – for experience, this is the most difficult part of the process for a parent to become skilled at.

Regular brushing, 3 to 4 times in a day, can be most helpful in addressing sensory processing difficulties in which the child presents with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Continue brushing for a period of at least three weeks in order to facilitate the organising effect of the deep pressure brushing. For some children, continued brushing over a much longer period of time may be necessary.  When brushing your child, use the opportunity to connect emotionally with them as well. The positive effects of spending time connecting emotionally with your child cannot be overstated, and are as important, if not more important than just doing the brushing. Offer deep pressure brushing before tasks and events which you know are likely to unsettle or to disorganise your child, as the organising effect of the brushing will ease him during difficult times.

This is just a brief and simple discussion of deep pressure tactile brushing. We hope that you find it of value and that you and your child benefit from this simple yet potentially very effective and beneficial approach.