The first Sensory Ladders were made in 2001 for adults with sensory integration difficulties receiving help with mental health difficulties in Cornwall. Influenced by the paediatric Alert Program, they offered therapists a way to combine Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Ayres’ Sensory Integration, addressing the development of the person’s self-awareness in collaboration with ward staff on an acute psychiatric inpatient unit.
The need to start with the person where they are at, before introducing learning about new ways of being, including the development of new skills, made it necessary for the Sensory Ladder to remain a very individualised and personalised journey within a close safe therapeutic relationship.
Both Ayres’ Sensory Integration(ASI) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy(DBT) share a common understanding that development and change can only occur within a safe environment. The DBT idea of balancing safety and challenge reverberates strongly with Ayres’ concept of the ‘just right challenge’.
Creating a Sensory Ladder is about creating opportunities for an adult or child to learn to become aware of themselves in a new way – to explore and discover new things about mind, body and brain. It allows the therapist and person to do “curious wondering” together, and for the person to try new things – creating and promoting active but informed risk-taking; testing how we might feel and experience something when we do it differently; new ways of being – new ways of responding.
Making and using a Sensory Ladder is about the journey together within a safe therapeutic relationship. It’s about getting to see and know someone in a very different way, getting underneath the skin of behaviours that are perhaps being described by others as tricky or challenging.
The Sensory Ladder facilitates the reframing of behaviour that are a result of sensory integration challenges, providing the first step of acceptance of the behaviour necessary before strategies and therapy support development and change to happen.
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