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Roseann C. Schaaf, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Contact Dr. Schaaf

900 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

(215) 503-9609

Research and Clinical Interests

Sensory Processing Disorders; Autism, Autonomic Nervous System Activity

Autism is the most common developmental disability of childhood. Approximately 90% of individual's with Autism experience sensory dysfunction (SD-such as spinning self or flicking hands in front of face) that substantially interferes with function. Parents and teachers indicate that these are some of the most challenging obstacles to participation in activities for children. Clearly, understanding SD in autism and subsequently, developing and testing new, innovative treatment approaches to ameliorate sensory dysfunction in autism is an important public health concern. Nevertheless, SD in autism is poorly characterized, its underlying mechanisms are not understood, and interventions to address it lack an adequate theoretical basis and empirical data to support their utility.

Dr. Schaaf's research represents a novel approach and a new and promising research direction on autism from which to characterize sensory dysfunction (behaviorally and physiologically), examine relations between behavioral and physiological measures of SD, and then examine their impact on adaptive behavior (defined as performance of daily activities required for personal and social sufficiency) and participation (defined as successful engagement in home, school and community activities).

The Sensory Challenge Protocol (SCP), a unique and innovative research protocol designed to measure autonomic reactivity to sensation in a controlled laboratory environment. The vagal tone index, the parasympathetic marker, and the mean number and magnitude of peaks of electrodermal activity, the sympathetic markers, are measured.

The findings from this study address a range of important and clinically relevant questions and will be used to guide "best practice" by providing data to enhance understanding of the impact of SD on behavior and participation. In addition, the findings will serve as a basis for the next phase of this program of research -development and testing interventions for SD.