Jefferson Autism Center of Excellence


  • 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):

Current Research

Roseann Schaaf, Lady Rios-Vega (PIs), J. Matthew Fields, Kristin Rising (Co-I’s)
Funded by: The Patient-centered Outcome Research Institute (PCORI)

This project is designed to improve the cultural humility of Occupational Therapy using Ayres Sensory Integration® for Hispanic and Latino families of autistic children. We use PCORI’s Stakeholder Engagement Principals to engage a diverse group of stakeholders to provide input on how to improve access to and utilization of therapy services, specifically Occupational Therapy using Ayres Sensory Integration®.

Racial and ethnic minorities with autistic children often experience delays in access to therapy services that can result in poor outcomes, decreased quality of life, and increased parental and financial stress. Many autism interventions were developed and tested with only White participants with the assumption that they could be transferable to minority populations. However, research has found that this is not the case and that interventions that are not sensitive or adapted to an individual’s culture and ethnicity do not work as well and are not used as frequently. Diverse stakeholder voices are needed to assure interventions are culturally sensitive and appropriate. In this project, we compare two stakeholder engagement methods, Design Thinking (DT) and Focus Groups (FG), to determine which is better for obtaining input on the facilitators and barriers to accessing and using therapy for children. The data collected will be used to culturally adapt the Occupational Therapy using Ayres Sensory Integration® intervention to assure it is culturally sensitive for the Hispanic and Latino population. The project is guided by advisory boards supporting the research team throughout the project and its dissemination. The boards include Hispanic and Latino autistic individuals, parents and caregivers, occupational therapists, teachers, autism experts, and cultural experts. By taking a humble approach, we hope to improve access to evidence-based interventions, reduce health disparities, and improve the relationship between therapists and culturally diverse clients. 

Rachel Dumont, Lady Rios-Vega, & Roseann Schaaf (co-PIs)
Funded by: The College of Rehabilitation Sciences, Thomas Jefferson University, and the Nancy Talbot Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF).

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 occupational therapy 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. 

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

Atypical responses to sensory experiences are common in autism and impact a child’s ability to participate in essential daily activities that contribute to their development and well-being. This project addresses a critical need to develop and evaluate interventions for core features (e.g., Sensory Symptoms) of Autism in young autistic children ages 3-5 years.  Specifically, this project will develop and conduct a feasibility trial of an early intervention that targets sensory symptoms for children with Autism ages 3-5.  Findings indicate that the intervention was safe and feasible to deliver, and there was high satisfaction from parents and therapists. Pilot data show positive trends in daily living skills and individualized goals 

Roseann Schaaf (PI), Anita Bundy (co-I)
Funded by: The Eagles Autism Foundation

This study will establish the reliability and validity of an assessment of sensory features for children with autism ages 3-12 year.  We administered the newly developed test of sensory functions, the Evaluation of Ayres Sensory Integration® (EASI) to confirm that it is reliable and valid for use with this population. The EASI showed strong validity and reliability for children with autism and data suggests it is a useful battery of tests for researchers and clinicians to utilize with autistic children.

Maria Cerase & Roseann Schaaf (co-PIs)

This study evaluated the current factors, including the supports and barriers identified by school-based occupational therapists impacting Occupational Therapy using Ayres Sensory Integration® intervention in school-based practice

These studies adapted the Ayres Sensory Integration® Parent Education Modules to improve knowledge translation (Roan, et al, 2022) and cultural sensitivity for Mandarin-speaking Chinese families of autistic children (Chan, in preparation).


Roseann Schaaf (PI); Elizabeth Ridgway (Co-I)

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. An additional aim of this study is to evaluate the acceptability, feasibility, and implementation fidelity of the adapted intervention. 


Roseann Schaaf & Sophie Molholm (co-PIs)
Funded by: The 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).

Past Research

Roseann Schaaf (PI)
Funded by: The 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. This grant brings together 14 scientists around 5 projects to advance understanding of sensory features in autism spectrum disorder and to provide guidance for clinical and research practices in this area. As part of this grant, we created the Autism Sensory Research Consortium.  Members are listed below.

  • Grace Baranek 
  • Carissa Cascio
  • Heather Green
  • Shulamite A. Green 
  • Alex Levin - [former member}
  • Zoe Mailloux 
  • Elysa Marco 
  • Jade Price 
  • Nick Puts 
  • Caroline Roberts 
  • Natalie Russo 
  • Nick Puts 
  • Teresa Tavassoli 
  • Zachary Williams
  • Tiffany Woynaroski 
  • Erika Woodka 

Roseann Schaaf (PI) Rachel Dumont (co-I)

This project created a sensory friendly vision clinic for autistic persons.  It includes a sensory screening, suggested adaptations to the vision clinic environment and a sensory story to help autistic persons navigate the vision clinic successfully. 

Rachel Dumont & Roseann Schaaf (co-PIs) Taylor Sivori (Research Coordinator)
Funded by: Jefferson Cannabis Research Institute

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.

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.

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.


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.

Lady Rios-Vega, Roseann Schaaf, Matthew Fields, Diane Treadwell-Deering

Autistic children experience atypical sensory features impacting their ability to participate in healthcare. This can result in negative experiences and interactions affecting future care. This project is a collaboration with the Swank Autism Center of Nemours to learn about the sensory needs of autistic children at the autism center during healthcare participation and using a collaborative and innovative approach: design thinking, brainstorm, and design meaningful solutions to improve participation during healthcare visits.