She / Her / Hers / Herself
  • Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy
  • Director, Jefferson Autism Center of Excellence
  • Professor, Farber Institute for Neurosciences
Organization: Jefferson Autism Center of Excellence

130 South 9th Street
6th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Contact Number(s):

Improving Utilization of Occupational Therapy Services for Black & African American Families of Children with Autism

Rachel Dumont & Roseann Schaaf (co-PIs) JCRS Dean's Research Award

This project involves seeking the wisdom and expertise from key stakeholders, including Black and African American families, experts in African American culture and needs, and occupational therapy practitioners who provide services to Black and African American children with autism, via focus groups, to identify barriers and facilitators of OT service use and access to adapt our existing evidence-based occupational therapy intervention so it is acceptable and culturally relevant for Black and African American families. 

Project Justice

Roseann Schaaf 

Project Justice builds upon the evidence-based toolkit for justice professionals created by the Pennsylvania Autism, Services, Education, Resources, Training (ASERT) and JeffACE. OTD candidates with JeffACE initiated educational training about how to utilize the ASSIST resources, including potential responses to sensory stimuli in the environment; environmental considerations in police cars, ambulances, crowds, and shelters; and evidence-based strategies that can be used to support individuals with autism.

Testing the Feasibility of a Telehealth Intervention for Children with Autism

Roseann Schaaf (PI)

This project adapts an evidence-based, manualized protocol of occupational therapy using Ayres Sensory Integration for autistic children ages 4-12 to be delivered via telehealth (OT4ASD). An additional aim of this study is to evaluate the acceptability, feasibility, and implementation fidelity of the adapted intervention. 

Caregivers' View on Cannabis Use for their Children with Autism

Rachel Dumont & Roseann Schaaf (co-PIs) JCRS Dean's Research Award

This project aimed to obtain information from parents of autistic children regarding their level of knowledge and attitude towards cannabis use for this child, and their interest in participating in future research studies.

Research that improves the quality of life and services for persons with Autism across the lifespan

Early Occupational Therapy to Improve Functional Outcomes for Young Children with Autism

Joanne Hunt & Roseann Schaaf (Co-PIs).  New Jersey Autism Research Program

This project addresses a critical need to develop and evaluate interventions for core features (e.g., Sensory Symptoms) of Autism in young children.  Specifically, this project will develop and pilot test an early intervention that targets sensory symptoms for children with Autism ages 3-5.  Outcome measures will be at the participation and function levels of the ICF.

Measuring Sensory Features in Autism: Validity & Reliability Testing

Roseann Schaaf (PI), Eagles Autism Foundation

This study will establish the reliability and validity of an assessment of sensory features for children with AUTISM. We will administer the newly developed test of sensory functions to 50 children with AUTISM to confirm that it is reliable and valid for use with this population. We expect that it will show strong validity and reliability for children with AUTISM and that it will be a useful battery of tests for researchers and clinicians.

Sensory Functions in Autism: Program Project Grant

Roseann Schaaf (PI), Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation

This program project grant aims to study the mechanisms of sensory processing in Autism, focusing on vision, audition, and tactile processing with a team of diverse and accomplished scientists. We will build a model to describe the contributions of sensory processing and integration on the Autism phenotype. A training component will train ophthalmology and occupational therapy residents to provide sensory assessments to children with Autism and understand their contribution to the Autism phenotype.

Sensory Integration Therapy in Autism:  Mechanisms & Effectiveness

Roseann Schaaf & Sophie Molholm (co-PIs); National Institute of Child Health & Development NIH R01 HD082814-01A1

This comparative effectiveness study will compare occupational therapy using the principles of sensory integration to behavioral intervention for children with Autism and measure change in multisensory integration via evoked related potentials (EEG).

Current Mentored Graduate Assistant & Medical Student Projects

Effects of Rocking on Attention & Arousal

Individuals with Autism as well as others with developmental conditions (such as ADHD) may experience difficulties with regulating attention and alertness for performance and participation in activities. There is some evidence to suggest that sensory-based strategies may help support attention and alertness. This project examined whether using a specially designed rocker chair (Virco, Inc.) providing vestibular sensation impacted attention and alertness during performance of a task.  We measured autonomic nervous system activity (ANS) at rest and in the rocker chair during a performance task. This contributes to the evidence for integrating vestibular sensation activities into the clinic and classroom to regulating attention and arousal with individuals with Autism and other developmental conditions.

Evidence for Use of Sensory Adaptive Environments with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Scoping Review

Autism spectrum disorder (AUTISM) is characterized by difficulties in social communication and restricted and repetitive behaviors, including sensory features. These sensory features may involve hypo/hyper-reactivity; poor perception of sensations; and/or ineffective ability to integrate and utilize two or more aspects of the sensory environment. Sensory features can impact participation in everyday activities. Using a sensory adapted environment (SAE) may facilitate participation in daily activities for individuals with Autism. This scoping review of the literature is to identify the equipment and evidence for designing a SAE. The findings of this scoping review contribute to the development of protocols for designing and equipping SAEs, and for furthering evidence-based practice with persons with AUTISM.

Parent Goals for Children with Autism receiving Occupational Therapy using an Ayres Sensory Integration®

Occupational therapy using the principles of Ayres Sensory Integration (OT/ASI) is one of the most commonly requested therapies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (AUTISM). Through further analysis of parent-identified goals and hypothesized sensory integration (SI) factors impacting a child’s participation, occupational therapists can advance further in individualized client-and family-centered practice. This project focuses on the parent-identified occupation-based goals and the hypothesized SI factors underlying each goal for 25 children with AUTISM receiving OT/ASI as part of an NIH-funded study. A total of 125 goals were developed via a parent interview process prior to intervention. Goals were categorized into areas of occupation according to the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework. Using assessment data, primary and secondary SI factors were identified for each goal using the Data-Driven Decision Making Process. Findings from this project contribute to the evidence for systematic methodology to utilize assessment data to link parent goals to SI factors, and that parents identify goals for their children that are within in the domains of occupational therapy practice.

Systematic Review of Evidence-Based Practices for Improving Daily Living Skills in Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Independent living skills (IL) are an integral component in the transition to adulthood (Bal et al., 2015). However, many young adults with Autism have difficulty in these skills. Occupational therapists have expertise in facilitating the development of daily living skills in individuals with Autism; however, there is a paucity of evidence to guide practice. The purpose of this systematic review is to address the following question: “What are the evidence-based strategies for increasing independent living skills for young adults with Autism?” The findings of this systematic review are integral to implementing evidence-based practice to address IL skills.

Using Data-Driven Decision Making to Design & Implement Occupational Therapy using Ayres Sensory Integration for a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

When developing a treatment plan for occupational therapy using the principles of Ayres Sensory Integration (OT/ASI), it is crucial to embed evidence-based practice and systematic methodology to support best-practice. The Data-Driven Decision Making model (DDDM) emphasizes a sequential process of using data to guide clinical intervention and measurement of outcomes. With DDDM, practitioners are guided through theory-based and evidence-based practice using standardized assessments to supplement observation and client history/interview. Further, DDDM guides the use of collaborative, participation-based goals, and data-based hypotheses to tailor interventions. DDDM has been utilized in the literature but further explication of its utility in clinical practice is needed. This project details the process of utilizing the DDDM model with a child with AUTISM who participated in a feasibility trial. The findings support the use of DDDM for occupational therapists working with children with AUTISM and their families. Further, this case demonstrates how DDDM results in an effective individualized intervention addressing occupational performance and functional outcomes.

Using Goal Attainment Scaling as an outcome measure in Occupational Therapy using Ayres Sensory Integration with Three Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Identification of outcomes that are meaningful and important to the family and child, allows for the development of interventions that are tailored to the child and family’s needs and goals that are motivating and attainable. Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) may be particularly useful as an outcome measurement in clinical trials of Autism interventions and in clinical practice. This project details the process of goal development and scaling for outcome measures and the pre-post results of GAS in three children with AUTISM from a feasibility trial. The findings of this project are crucial to furthering evidence of using measures that assess change in occupational performance and measures that demonstrate sensitivity to change in shorter intervention periods.

Vestibular Systems in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Scoping Review

Sensory systems and sensory features are commonly reported in individuals with Autism. Despite their prevalence, more research is needed on the sensory systems and their role in Autism.  This project focuses on the vestibular system in Autism.  The purpose of this scoping review is to investigate the evidence for vestibular perception, discrimination, and processing strengths and challenges with individuals with Autism. This project will inform further areas of research within the vestibular systems and aid in evidence for occupational therapy practitioners when developing individualized intervention plans to address vestibular system needs.

Current Mentored Graduate Assist & Medical Student Project

Supports & Opportunities for Neurodiversity Inclusive in Practices at Jefferson

Using Design Thinking & Evidence to Create a Sensory Friendly Experience to Improve Participation in Health Care at the Swank Autism Center