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Sensory Functions in Autism Spectrum Disorders

This grant to Thomas Jefferson University consists of five projects designed to advance understanding and treatment of sensory features in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  Sensory features of ASD are defined as hypo and hyper reactivity to touch, sounds, tastes, smells, vision, and body sensations; unusual interests in the sensory features of objects and the environment; and differences in integration of two or more sensations (also known as multisensory integration).  These are now included as a diagnostic feature of ASD and, as such, the impact of sensory features on the development and expression of ASD has emerged as an important area of research.

This project brings together a highly accomplished group of researchers and clinician-scientists from multiple institutions and from varied disciplines (including child neurology, ophthalmology, neuroimaging, developmental psychology, occupational therapy and neuroscience) who have expertise in various areas of sensory functions in autism. As such, this unique and collaborative approach serves to advance the knowledge base of sensory functions in ASD beyond what could be accomplished individually. Together these groups are exploring sensory functions in ASD across the lifespan and across sensory systems with the unifying theme of understanding the sensory contributions to ASD. An important component of this grant is “team science” which leverages the strengths and expertise of professionals trained in different fields.  Their team science approach emphasizes the importance of translating research findings into testable interventions to alleviate sensory differences and improve functional skills including communication, social interactions and daily living skills in ASD. The investigators involved in this collaborative project include the following:

Assessing Vision and Other Sensory Functions:  Training the Next Generation

Roseann Schaaf, PhD, Thomas Jefferson University

Alex V. Levin, MD, Wills Eye Hospital

Elisa Marco, MD, University of California San Francisco

Zoe Mailloux, OTD, Thomas Jefferson University

Naturalistic Visual Cognition in Individuals with Autism

Caroline Robertson, PhD, Dartmouth University

Altered Tactile Processing in ASD

Nicolas Puts, PhD, Johns Hopkins

Teresa Tavassoli, Reading University, UK

Erika Wodka, Johns Hopkins

Auditory Detection in Young Children with ASD and Language Impairment

Heather Green, PhD, Thomas Jefferson University and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

A Neurodevelopmental Model of Sensory Features in ASD

Natalie Russo, PhD, Syracuse University

Grace Baranek, PhD., University of Southern California

Carissa Cascio, PhD., Vanderbilt University

Tiffany Woynaroski, PhD., Vanderbilt University

Shula Green, PhD., University of California, Los Angeles