Special Needs and Willbarger Approach – Therapeutic Brushing Techniques

by Carrie with Children with 10 comments

Yesterday at Molly’s weekly occupational therapy session we were introduced to a new technique called the Willbarger Approach (sometimes referred to as the Willbarger Protocol). Commonly known as a “brushing” technique, from what I’ve learned so far, it’s much more than brushing.  The key to the technique is actually pressure touch and is commonly used in helping with sensory defensiveness. (It’s okay…I’m still learning all these words, too.)

With the help of this bristled brush pictured above, therapists suggest that using a “brushing” movement on a child’s arms, legs and back can acclimate their sensory development.  The palms of the hands and the soles of the feet are also included in this technique.  The objective is to apply deep pressure smoothly and evenly with firm brush strokes throughout the body in a horizontal motion from top to bottom.

When done correctly, the brushing shouldn’t feel like brushing, but pressure with a flush of tactile sensations.  At the end of each “brushing” session, Molly’s therapist advised us to compress the joints.  It sounds a little scary, but really it’s pretty simple.  Just a few quick presses on the shoulders, elbows and wrists and then the hips, knees and ankles.

Molly’s therapist has suggested that we use this technique every two hours for the next two weeks with only about three to five minutes at a time.  She admitted to us that it was a lofty goal, but to try our best to stick to this schedule.  I’ll keep you posted on our progress.  I’m hoping to do a video soon to show you the technique too!

Are you a special needs parent that is familiar with this technique?  Do you use it with your own child?  If so, I’d love for you to share your thoughts.


**I’m not an expert on this topic…at all.  I’m curious to learn more about it as we continue our journey with Molly and wanted to share what I’ve learned with you. **


  • Heather

    That’s really interesting! I haven’t seen that before! Just wanted to say your daughter is soooooo adorable!

    • Carrie with Children

      Thanks Heather! I had never heard of it until recently! So far, Molly really seems to enjoy it..and it gives her the giggles. Maybe it tickles?!

  • Tiff

    We used this technique with Timothy. We used a similar technique with the vibrating spoon on his arms, legs and face to help him adapt to different textures.

    It’s funny, I just blogged today about OT! 🙂

    • Carrie with Children

      Oooh, I haven’t heard of the vibrating spoon technique! Sounds interesting, I may need to ask about it!

      Hooray that we both wrote about OT today. We just started with a new therapist and she’s fantastic! A good OT makes a huge difference

  • Shannon

    We do this with my son Tristan, he is a former 28 weeker, now 4 with many texture and sensory issues. It does seem to work!

    • Carrie with Children

      Thanks for sharing, Shannon! I’m so glad to know that you’ve seen improvements in Tristan since using it. We’ve been at it a week now and Molly doesn’t seem to mind it!

  • gregg

    Hi everyone. Thank you for the information you have provided. I am interested in starting a brushing/joint compression technique with my 21 month old daughter. She self stims a lot and i thought it could help.
    I was wondering if anyone had any ideas of what brush to get and where to find it. thank you so much for your help.


    • Leah

      I would like to just say that this blog is great and it is a wonderful way of connecting and sharing ideas an most of all, relating with one another. I found it as I was looking for Willbarger Brushes instructions.
      I work for a company called Fun and Function and we sell the Brushes as well as 100’s of other therapy toys and equipment. Weighted products are our pride! You can also take a look at our facebook page and connect with thousands of other parents who can empathize, share, cry and laugh. https://www.facebook.com/FunandFunctionFans
      Good Luck!

  • Janeane

    Hi Carrie
    My eleven year old son is autistic, and his teacher introduced me to this technique when he was 6 years old. It had amazing results, and I have actually just recommended to a friend who is travelling a similar journey to try it on her son. I’m sure you will find that the technique will help your daughter (and you!).

    • Carrie with Children

      Thanks Janeane. It’s so great to hear that other families have seen great results from this technique. We have too!