Thomas Jefferson UniversityJefferson School of Health Professions

Main menu:

Children, Youth & Families

Autism and Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration Lab
Roseann C. Schaaf, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Focuses on 3 major areas related to autism and occupational therapy:  1) the effectiveness of Occupational Therapy using sensory integration principles for children with ASD in clinic and community sites; 2) biomarkers of sensory processing in autism; and 3) the development and evaluation of a best practice model of occupational therapy for children with autism in a community-based setting.

List of Research Projects

  • Souder, M. Principal Investigator, Schaaf, R. and Connell, J. Co-investigators, Department of Defense: "The Tailored Behavioral Intervention (TAB) for Insomnia in Children with Autism." (September 1, 2013 -- August 31, 2014). 
  • Schaaf, R.C. Principal Investigator, National Institute of Health, NICHD:  “Physiological and Behavioral Characterization of Sensory Dysfunction in Autism.” [5R03HD055972-02] $157,000/2 years (Aug 1, 2009 – July 31, 2011).
    • Schaaf, R. C., Benevides, T., Lieby, B., & Sendecki, J. (2013). Autonomic dysregulation sensory stimulation in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1924-6.
  • Schaaf, R.C. Principal Investigator, Autism Speaks:  “Effectiveness of Sensory Based Strategies for Improving Adaptive Behaviors in Children With Autism.”  Funded: $495,000.  Project Period September 1, 2008-August 30, 2011.
    • Schaaf, R. C., Benevides, T., Mailloux, Z., Faller, P. et al. (2013). An Intervention for Sensory Difficulties in Children with Autism: A Randomized Trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi: 10.1007/s10803-013-1983-8.
  • Schaaf, R.C., Santalucia, S., & Johnson, C. Co-Investigators - Creating an Evidence-Based, Data-Driven Model Fieldwork Experience.
  • Schaaf, R.C. Principal Investigator - Feasibility of Conducting an Evidence-based Intervention for Children with Autism in a Community Setting.

Visit the Sensory Integration Lab website here.

Early intervention

Child and Family Studies Research Programs
Philippa H. Campbell, PhD, OTR/L

Child and Family Studies Research Programs houses a variety of research, technical assistance, and professional development activities designed to improve the quality of services for families and their children with special needs in the communities in which they live.  A varied program of research studies, funded by external grants and contracts, uniquely target young children at risk for poor school outcomes, their families, and the interdisciplinary professionals who provide their early education and intervention.  

List of Research Projects

Studies related to the use of adaptations and assistive technology with infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children.

Studies of early intervention practices used by occupational therapists and other service providers with families and their at-risk infants and toddlers including studies on professional development, child and family outcomes, caregiver teaching efficacy, and participation-based service outcomes. 

Studies of inner city child care program practices including professional development, parent training, social emotional competence, reduction of challenging behavior, use of adaptations and assistive technology, and efficacy of inclusion.  

Visit the Children and Family Studies website here

Racially-Concordant and Non-Concordant Provider-Caregiver Interactions During Early Intervention Sessions
Teal Benevides, PhD, OTR/L
Phillipa H. Campbell, PhD, OTR/L
The healthcare literature suggests that initial interactions with clients, in which the provider develops a shared trust and an open dialogue through culturally competent verbal and non-verbal interactions (e.g. Alegria, Rotor, Valentine et al., 2013).  Evidence-based practices suggest that early-intervention (EI) services for infants and toddlers with disabilities or children with special health care needs are more effective when family patterns are a primary emphasis of intervention content and intervention focuses on children’s caregivers (e.g. McCollum, & Yates, 1994). It is therefore imperative that EI providers, who enter into the family home to provide services, demonstrate effective verbal and non-verbal interaction skills that facilitate the caregiver's skill and confidence. The purpose of this study is to describe verbal and non-verbal interaction patterns that occur between caregivers and providers during early intervention sessions, and to identify differences in interaction behavior that occurs between racially-concordant and discordant parent-provider dyads.

Pediatric Spinal Cord Injury

Evaluation of the Neurological Consequence of Spinal Cord Injury in Children and Youths
Mary Jane (MJ) Mulcahey, PhD, OTR/L

The International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury (ISNCSCI) include standards for examination of motor and sensory function as well as standards for classification of spinal cord injury (SCI). The sensory examination involves testing sensory appreciation to sharp-dull discrimination and light touch in 56 dermatomes, including S4-5. The motor examination involves strength testing of 10 key muscles on each side (five in each arm, five in each leg). The rectal examination involves a digital examination to determine the presence or absence of deep anal pressure (DAP) and volitional anal contraction.  The ISNCSCI were developed, validated and field tested in adult populations. The cognitive demands of the ISNCSCI are likely to great for young children. Also, some of the tests and test instructions require “experience” (for example, the test instruction, “squeeze my finger like you were holding in a bowel movement”) that some children who are injured at an early age (for example, prior to bowel continence) may not have. This program of research is designed to determine the lower age limit for the ISNCSCI, establish the validity and reliability of scores when the ISNCSCI is applied to children and to develop alternative methods to accurately evaluate the neurological consequence of SCI in children and youths.

List of Research Projects

  • Reliability and validity of the ISNCSCI when applied to children and youths ($300,000 Funding Period, 2010-2012) Mulcahey PI.  Funded by The Shriners Hospitals for Children Research Advisory Board (Mulcahey, PI)
  • Development of observational motor assessment for infants with SCI (Funding Period, 2012-2012), Mulcahey PI. Funded by The Shriners Hospitals for Children Research Advisory Board (Mulcahey, PI)
  • Diffusion tensor imaging as a biomarker for pediatric SCI, Funded by The National Institutes of Health., -Application 1 R01 NS079635-01A1 “Neuroimaging based on DTI as a biomarker for spinal cord injury in children.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), Acute Neural Injury and Epilepsy Study Section (ANIE) (2013-2018), Principle Investigator (multi-PI arrangement), $1,929,382. 

Development and Field-Testing Outcome Measures for Pediatric Spinal Cord Injury
Mary Jane (MJ) Mulcahey, PhD, OTR/L

The psychometric testing of outcomes instruments with children with SCI has been limited and there is a void in instruments that contain items that are relevant to children with SCI. Additionally, there is no outcome instrument that can be administered to children as they grow through to adulthood.  The lack of outcomes instruments has resulted in the inability to evaluate important and meaningful treatment outcomes and has caused a knowledge deficit in how children with SCI function and participate overtime. This program of research is focused on developing outcomes instruments for pediatric SCI.

List of Research Projects

  • Development and Validation of Computer Adaptive Tests of Activity and Participation (2010-2014), Funded by the Shriners Hospitals for Children, (Mulcahey, PI)
  • Development of the Pediatric Neurorecovery Scale (2013-2015), Funded by The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, (2013-2015), Consultant, $300,000.
  • Field Testing Notable Adult SCI Instruments in Children, Under Review by The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation ($300,000) (Mulcahey, PI)
  • Linking Adult and Pediatric Outcomes Instruments, Funded by the Shriners Hospitals for Children (2014-2016), Principle Investigator (Mulcahey) , $516,032.

Camps for children with special needs

Camp Dream Street in Mississippi  
Audrey Zapletal, MS, OTR/L

The purpose of this study is to demonstrate the impact of having occupational therapists and students enhances an overnight camping experience for children with physical disabilities.  OTs and interns provide physical assistance, adaptive equipment, environmental modifications and education to support campers, their counselors, the upper staff and programming staff during the week-long experience in Utica, MS. 

Children with Cerebral Palsy and Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy

Computer Adaptive Tests Approach to Evaluation of Pediatric Rehabilitation Outcomes
Mary Jane (MJ) Mulcahey, PhD, OTR/L

Computer adaptive testing (CAT) is a 21st century measurement technology that shows promise for enabling precise and relevant measurement with minimal burden to the responder. Based on the concepts of item response theory (IRT), large item banks are created for a given domain (for example, “participation” or “upper extremity function”). Test items are presented based on the responses to previous items and to filter questions (for example, gender, age, equipment use, etc).  In this way, no client is presented an item that is too difficult or too easy or that is simply not relevant.  The purpose of this program of research is to develop and validate CAT for pediatric populations.

List of Research Projects

  • Development of CAT of Physical Function for Children with Cerebral Palsy, Funded by the Shriners Hospitals for Children (2007-2010) ($1,500,000) (Mulcahey, PI).
  • Responsiveness of CAT to Orthopedic Surgery in Children with Cerebral Palsy, Funded by the Shriners Hospitals for Children (2010—2014), (Principal Investigator, $1,300,000) (Mulcahey, PI).
  • Evaluation of PROMIS CAT and Short Forms in Children with Cerebral Palsy and Spinal Cord Injury, Funded by the PROMIS (2010-2013), (Mulcahey, sub-investigator)
  • Evaluation of Item Banks of Activity and Upper Extremity in Children with Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy: A Differential Functioning Study (2010-2013), Funded by the Shriners Hospitals for Children (Mulcahey, PI).
  • Evaluation of the PEDI-CAT in Children with Spine Impairments, Funded by Synthes Spine, (Mulcahey, PI)
  • Development and Validation of CAT of Activity and Participation for Children with SCI, Funded by the Shriners Hospitals for Children (Mulcahey, PI).
  • Development of an Item Bank of Appearance for Adolescents with Idiopathic Scoliosis, (Mulcahey, PI). 

Utilization and Access to Therapy Services

Investigating access to therapy services for children with autism spectrum disorders, 2013-2014
Teal Benevides, PhD, OTR/L

Funded by the Maternal and Child Health Research Program, Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Title V, Social Security Act), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Department of Health and Human Services, (R40 MC 26194-01-00).

The study will explore children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their experience accessing therapy services. Many children with ASD receive services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy, but minimal research has been conducted to identify whether children are able to access these needed services. This study aims to develop recommendations to inform policy, service delivery and training for therapy service providers.