Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University
Jefferson College of Health Professions
Department of Occupational Therapy

Autism Lab

Autism & Sensory Integration Lab

Jefferson occupational therapy researchers are seeking to understand a key feature of autism – poor perception and integration of sensory information.   Nearly nine in 10 children and adults with autism have difficulty with sensory perception and integration. They may be hypersensitive to sounds, sights, and the feel of fabric or other sensations. They may have difficulty integrating auditory and visual information needed for language, or touch and movement sensations needed for balance.  These issues can be debilitating, affecting learning, socializing, and even basic needs like eating. Jefferson’s Autism Lab develops tools to evaluate sensory functions, studies how the brain perceives and integrates sensory information, how differences in sensory processing and integration impact ever day life skills, and whether occupational therapy interventions designed to treat these sensory issues result in long-lasting changes in functional skills needed for success in everyday life.

Areas of study:

  • Processing and integrating sensory information and its impact on functional skills and performance in activities in home, school, and community environments
  • Evaluating sensory reactivity and multisensory integration using standardized assessments, psychophysiological measurement, brain imaging, and multisensory integration-evoked related brain potentials.
  • Implementing occupational therapy interventions to address sensory difficulties and evaluating their impact on functional skills and brain functions.
  • Studying occupational therapy interventions that facilitate participation in recreational activities as a means to improve quality of life in young adults with autism – the EuREKA Project)
  • Coaching in Context for College Success for young adults with autism (C+C Project)
  • Environmental modifications to facilitate participation in the community (SAFE: Sensory Aware and Friendly Environments)
  • Innovative Design for Engaged Attention and Learning (IDEAL)


Roseann C. Schaaf, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Professor and Chair, Department of Occupational Therapy

Zoe Mailloux, OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Adjunct Associate Professor

Amy Carroll, OTD, OTR/L
Assistant Professor

Laura Krisa, PhD
Assistant Professor

Marie-Christine Potvin, PhD, OTR/L
Associate Professor
(East Falls Campus)

Rachel Dumont, OTR/L
Autism Research Coordinator

General Description of Student Activities

Students who are highly motivated, with strong academic achievement, and who have an interest in autism and/or sensory integration are invited to join this lab. Here student will develop an understanding of autism and its unique features and considerations. Students participate in one or more of the research projects, gain a more indepth understanding of autism and gain experience and practice with research related to autism and neuroscience. Projects are varied and may include analysis of existing data, collection of prospective data, literature reviews, and data entry.

Students can gain experience in:

  • Determining patterns of sensory differences in children with autism
  • Comparing the effectiveness of occupational therapy using sensory integration to behavioral intervention for improving functional skills in children with autism
  • Categorizing common goals of parents using a grounded theory approach
  • Assessing resting state connectivity during sensory using Inter-Regional Connectivity
  • Evaluating pilot testing in Ayres Sensory Integration
  • Examining the impact of dynamic sitting on arousal and task completion

Funding Sources

  • National Institutes of Health (NICHD) Grant # R01HD082814-01A1
  • VIRCO Corporation
  • American Occupational Therapy Foundation


For more information contact:

Roseann C. Schaaf
Professor and Chair, Department of Occupational Therapy