Roseann Schaaf, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Dr. Roseann Schaaf is professor and chair in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University, Jefferson College of Health Professions and Faculty at the Farber Institute for Neuroscience at Jefferson. Dr. Schaaf is a translational scientist who has devoted her career to the study of children with autism and other developmental disorders, in particular how processing and integrating sensory information impacts participation in daily occupations. Building on her training as a behavioral neuroscientist, Dr. Schaaf's psychophysiological laboratory was funded by NIH and provided insight into the neurological mechanisms of sensory difficulties in children with autism.
She has received over 35 funded grants totaling $8 million dollars including a recent $4.1 million dollar grant from the NIH to conduct a comparative effectiveness study of occupational therapy using sensory integration. This grant is in collaboration with her colleagues at Einstein Medical College and Queens University and includes a multisensory integration biomarker as an objective outcome measure of neuroplasticity. Roseann has over 70 peer-reviewed journal articles and abstracts, is the author of five books and 13 book chapters and has presented over 150 papers and presentations spanning national and international venues. She is a 2008 recipient of the A. Jean Ayres Research Award and a 1996 recipient of the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. Dr. Schaaf became an associate editor of OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health in 2017.
Q and A
Identify three words that others have used to describe you.
Energetic, persistent, optimistic.
How do you hope to make a difference in the world through research?
My work has focused on helping children with autism spectrum disorders and their families participate fully in daily life. The data shows us that one factor limiting full participation in school, community, work and leisure activities for children with autism and their family members is difficulty processing and integrating sensation. Hence, our team studies the neural mechanisms of sensory integration (to gain insight into how better to target our interventions) and the effectiveness of occupational therapy using sensory integration to facilitate functional skills and participation. Through our research we hope to facilitate participation for these children and their families.
What is one piece of advice you have for individuals considering a career in science and research?
Love what you do, surround yourself with competent, positive people, and find a mentor! I guess that is 3 pieces of advice - all equally important.
Beside your own areas of inquiry, what is one research priority that you believe is important for the future of occupational science and occupational therapy?
I believe we must be systematic about implementing and evaluating occupational therapy interventions, measuring outcomes and publishing our work in inter-professional venues. Intervention research (from mechanism to community impact) is important and a priority for occupational science and occupational therapy!
Describe the most important role that mentors played in your professional journey.
I have had many mentors throughout my professional journey as an occupational therapist, educator and now an occupational therapy researcher who kept me focused and helped me to re-focus when things were challenging. The most important role my mentors played is supporting me in so many ways - intellectually, emotionally, and professionally. This kept me going.
Identify a favorite occupation that renews you outside of your work.
I love the outdoors - nature keeps me centered so I like to hike, bike, walk, cross country ski and explore. Currently I am learning to mountain bike and jump over tree roots as I roll through the woods -- yikes!
What has been the most surprising or rewarding aspects of a career in science and research?
Most surprising for me has been the incredible occupational therapists I have had the opportunity to collaborate with in research. They are so committed and passionate and always go above and beyond for the greater good. They are committed to occupational therapy and excited to collaborate in research.
Schaaf, R.C., Benevides, T., Mailloux, Z., Leiby, B., Kelly, D., Faller, P., Hunt, J., Freeman, R., Sandecki, J., vanHooydonk, E., (2014). An intervention for sensory difficulties in children with Autism: A Randomized Trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44 (7), 1493-1506. DOI 10.1007/s10803-013-1983-8. PNID: 24214165
Schaaf, R. C., Burke, J.P., Cohn, E., May-Benson, T.A., Schoen, S.A., Smith Roley, S., Lane, S.J., Parham, L.D., Mailloux, Z. The Issue Is: The State of Measurement in Sensory Integration. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, e149-e153. Doi:10.5014/ajot.2014.012526
Schaaf, R. C. & Lane, A. (2015). Toward a best-practice protocol for assessment of sensory features in ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 45(5) 1380-1395 DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2299-z