Systematic review of the effectiveness of the Wilbarger protocol with children
Scott Weeks, Kobie Boshoff, Hugh Stewart
School of Health Sciences Occupational Therapy Program, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Background: Sensory processing disorders have an estimated prevalence of 5%–10% in children without disability and 40%–88% in children with disability. A subtype of sensory processing disorder is sensory overresponsivity, which can result in fear, irritability, aggression, or avoidance behaviors in children. The Wilbarger protocol is the most prescriptive program used to treat sensory overresponsivity in children aged 2–12 years. Strong anecdotal evidence suggests that the Wilbarger protocol successfully reduces challenging behavior in children with sensory overresponsivity. The aim of this systematic review was to identify and appraise the existing evidence for the effectiveness of the Wilbarger protocol with children aged 0–18 years.
Methods: A systematic review was conducted of the peer-reviewed literature written in English. The electronic databases searched up to April 2012 included CINAHL, Ovid Medline (R), Embase, Scopus, the Cochrane Library, AMED, and the Web of Science. OT Seeker and Google Scholar were searched for missed literature, along with hand-searching of retained articles. Adult studies were excluded. The Critical Review Form for Quantitative Studies by McMaster University and the levels of hierarchy from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council were used to appraise the literature.
Results: A total of 341 studies were found, and 302 were screened for eligibility after duplicates were removed. Four level IV intervention (case series with pretest/posttest) studies were included for indepth review. All four studies had very small sample sizes, exhibited low methodological quality, differed in outcome measures used, and lacked homogeneity of samples and treatment fidelity.
Conclusion: A lack of high quality evidence currently exists to support or refute the use of the Wilbarger protocol with children. While the grade of recommendation, as proposed by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, suggests that the Wilbarger protocol should be applied with caution, emerging evidence from these studies warrants future robust research on this topic. Clinicians are advised to use clear outcome measures when using the Wilbarger protocol with clients.
Keywords: Wilbarger protocol, pediatrics, allied health
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