Thomas Jefferson University Research Magazine

Article Title

Teaming Up on Autism



Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) - The most common neurodevelopment disorder of childhood— is characterized by challenges with social skills and communication, repetitive behaviors and sensory sensitivities.

The Jefferson Autism Research Program is comprised of a team investigating the molecular, genetic, synaptic and functional aspects of ASD. Program researchers and clinicians translate newly gained knowledge into treatments and behavioral interventions intended to improve the function and quality of life of those with ASD.

Roseann Schaaf, PhD, professor of occupational therapy, leads a multi-project study investigating ASD-associated sensory perception and integration difficulties. These often include hypersensitivity to sounds, sights and tactile sensations and trouble perceiving and integrating those sensory inputs— and can lead individuals with ASD to become overwhelmed and unresponsive. In addition, she is investigating whether occupational therapy designed to address ASD-related sensory challenges can create long-lasting improvements in everyday functional skills. Dr. Schaaf’s lab is conducting a large, NIH-funded clinical trial of sensory integration interventions in collaboration with Albert Einstein Medical Center in New York. The project tracks both improvements in children’s functional capacities and changes in their brains’ neurological processing.