Avanti Educational Programs

Sensory Defensiveness: A comprehensive treatment approach

Developed by Patricia Wilbarger, M.Ed., FAOTA, OTR and Julia Wilbarger, PhD, OTR

A 2 day workshop including an evening lab session


Sensory defensiveness is a serious sensory modulation problem that is often misidentified and infrequently treated effectively. This workshop will introduce an in-depth, clinical approach to treating sensory defensiveness.

Clinical work over four decades and advances in basic neuroscience have resulted in a specific, multidimensional treatment approach for sensory defensiveness that has had a dramatic impact on many clients. This integrated approach is client-centered and requires advanced clinical reasoning. Direct training is vital for appropriate application of the Therapressure Technique (Wilbarger approach) for treating sensory defensiveness.

The relationship between sensory defensiveness and emerging theories in psychology and neuroscience will be considered. The evening clinical labs offered in the course consist of training in specific assessment and treatment techniques, including the protocols developed by Patricia Wilbarger. Practicum exercises incorporate detecting and analyzing sensory-based behavior, activity planning (the “sensory diet”), and the management of individual cases using advanced clinical reasoning procedures.


  • Understand the key features of sensory defensiveness and how it disrupts occupational performance.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of clinical strategies for the treatment of sensory defensiveness across a variety of age and disability groups, including developing client awareness, creating a “sensory diet”, and applying a direct treatment approach to various clinical populations.
  • Identify symptoms of sensory defensiveness at different ages, using a specialized clinical interview.
  • Provide direct clinical management for clients being treated for sensory defensiveness.


Day 1

  8:30    Introduction & Overview of Key Issues

10:30    Neuroscience Basis of Sensory Defensiveness

12:00    Lunch Break (on your own)

  1:15    Integrated Treatment & Assessments

  3:30    Sensory Diets & Professionally Guided Treatment

  5:00    Dinner Break

Mandatory Evening Lab Session 

6:30  -  9:00   Lab 1 

·                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Group Practice of Assessments

·                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Using The Therapressure Program and Oral Technique (The Wilbarger Protocols)

Day 2

  8:30    Neuroscience Concepts related to the  Treatment of Sensory Defensiveness

 9:30     Protocol Check-out & Problem Solving Exercise

11:00    Ages and Stages:  Infants and Young Children

12:00    Lunch Break (on your own)

  1:15    Treatment Planning &  Problem Solving

  2:15    Ages and Stages:  School Aged Children

  3:30    Ages and Stages: Adolescents and Adults

  4:15    Clinical Reasoning across Populations

  5:00    Adjourn


Sensory Defensiveness: Follow-up Course (Treatment course #2)


This course designed for individual who have previously attended a workshop specifically on the treatment of sensory defensiveness using a treatment approach designed by Patricia Wilbarger.

The objectives of this seminar are to expand and refine your clinical skills and reasoning abilities for the treatment of sensory defensiveness. We will emphasis both theory and practice. Your active participation in treatment planning is an essential component of this learning experience. Multiple activities are used to refine skills in assessment and planning sensory diet planning. In addition, the use the Wilbarger Protocols will be reviewed in small group lab sessions.

The understanding of sensory defensiveness is still in a descriptive phase. Through our study of this problem we have become painfully aware of the life disruptions and hidden limitations that are caused by sensory defensiveness. We feel strongly that even the mildest case of sensory defensiveness should be treated. It is our goal to sufficiently expand your knowledge and refine your clinical skills so that you can actively take part in understanding the true nature of sensory defensiveness and in developing strategies to treat it.


  • Demonstrate knowledge of current approaches and strategies for the treatment of sensory defensiveness.
  • Be able to evaluate multiple cases and describe the relevant sensory-based behavior primary to sensory defensiveness as well as identify secondary or related behaviors or problem.
  • Create a comprehensive treatment plan for a clinical case including selecting the appropriate therapeutic activities and planning for their appropriate timing.
  • Identify when the use of intensive or advanced treatment approaches are appropriate.
  • Understand the current neurobehavioral theories helpful in the understanding of sensory defensiveness and its treatment.


Patricia Wilbarger, MEd, OTR, FAOTA, is an occupational therapist and counseling psychologist who has been working with some aspect of sensory processing theories for over forty years. She is a co-founder of Sensory Integration International and Avanti projects. She has lectured worldwide and has contributed to the development of sensory integration organizations in several countries. Ms. Wilbarger is well-known for her clinical work with newborns, infants, and children with diverse diagnoses. She was one of the first occupational therapists to work in the public schools and the neonatal intensive care unit.. She lectures nationally and internationally on sensory processing disorders and sensory integration, and is currently in private practice in Santa Barbara, CA.

Julia Wilbarger, PhD, OTR, received a Bachelor Degree in Physiological Psychology from University of California at Berkeley, a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Boston University, and a PhD in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Denver, Colorado. She has worked as an OT in early intervention with high risk and developmentally delayed infants and toddlers. She has worked with children of all ages in outpatient and school practice. She is certified in the administration of the SIPT and trained in NDT. She served as a clinical specialist in sensory integration at The Children’s Hospital, Denver. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the Department of Kinesiology where her research program is focused on understanding the foundations sensory and affective processing disruptions in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.