At Pop-Up Event, OT Students Support Autism Community

The students helped people with autism gain independence and job skills.
An OT student pours out a smoothie into a cup held by Adam Miller.
Adam Miller prepares Groothies on Lubert Plaza with the help of Jefferson OT students.

With Jefferson occupational therapy students by their side, young adults with autism blended and served up green smoothies, dubbed “Groothies,” on a sunny spring afternoon in Lubert Plaza.

The pop-up event—held in collaboration with St. Joseph’s Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support and community organization GetRealGetRaw—gave OT students valuable experience helping people with autism gain independence and job skills, says Jefferson OT professor Dr. Roseann Schaaf.

“And for the learners with autism,” she says, “it’s tremendously beneficial for them to get out of their natural environment and cope with all the social and sensory challenges here—and be able to do it successfully.”

Under the Groothie tent, Ira Tucker beamed with pride as he mixed the combo of kale, spinach, apples, bananas, pineapple and water and poured the drink into small cups. “I did it!” he smiles after receiving high-fives from the OT students assisting him.

Another pair of students then escorted Adam Miller as he handed out the free samples to thankful passersby on the plaza.

All donations collected at the April 23 pop-up—funded by the Philadelphia Autism Project—will go toward the Eagles Autism Challenge. Along with biking 50 miles at the Challenge, Dr. Schaaf is one of four researchers at Jefferson whose projects will receive funding from the May 18 event. She will use the funds to measure sensory features in autism and explore validity and reliability testing.

This award comes on the heels of Dr. Schaaf earning a $1.5 million grant from the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation to help train ophthalmology fellows and occupational therapy doctoral residents to assess vision and other sensory functions in individuals with autism. The collaboration with Dr. Alex Levin of Wills Eye Hospital will include researchers from across the United States and United Kingdom.

Along with biking 50 miles at the Eagles Autism Challenge, Dr. Schaaf is one of four researchers at Jefferson whose projects will receive funding from the May 18 event.

Conducting numerous autism-related projects and holding events like the Groothie pop-up demonstrate Jefferson’s role as a leader in autism research and its work to raise awareness on campus and beyond, Dr. Schaaf says.

In another example, the University’s newly formed Autism Interest Group recently hosted an Autism 101 session for faculty, staff and students to learn more about the condition that affects 1 in 59 children in the U.S. and how to include those with autism in the workplace. Dr. Schaaf and OT professor Dr. Amy Carroll serve as advisers for the organization that hopes to expand beyond OT and include nursing, medical and physical therapy students in its ranks.

“We know autism touches the lives of so many people,” says OT student Meg Ryan, who leads the group along with OT student Caitlin Roscia.

Cups of smoothies on a table.
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