Sensory Processing and Stress Evaluation Lab

About the LabA woman sits at a laptop while two other woman interact with a child hooked up to electronics

The Department of Occupational Therapy Kathryn Lawrence Dragas Sensory Processing And Stress Evaluation (SPASE) Lab was established in 2004 as an environment in which researchers could examine the physiological mechanisms underlying disorders in sensory integration and processing. The global aims of the SPASE Lab at VCU are to:

  • Examine the causes and prevalence of sensory integration and processing disorders;
  • Establish a differential diagnosis of sensory integration and processing disorders, distinguishing them from other conditions such as Autism and ADHD;
  • Identify neurologic, physiologic and biochemical markers associated with sensory integration and processing disorders.
  • Examine best practice for working with children with sensory integration and processing disorders.
  • Test novel sensory-based interventions for improving performance, sleep, and stress levels in children and adults with developmental disorders. 

Space and Equipment

The SPASE lab is located at 900 E. Leigh Street in the College of Health Professions Building (Rooms 5007 & 5009). The lab is 300 square feet divided into two rooms; a primary testing room and a parent/researcher observation room. The two rooms are divided by a one-way mirror; pan-tilt-zoom cameras are also installed in the primary testing space and can be controlled in the observation room for both recording and observational purpose.

We have research-grade technology to measure electrodermal reactivity, cardiac vagal tone, and cardiac impedence (Mindware Technology), as well as activity patterns and sleep (Actigraph GT9X watches). Our lab uses E-Prime 3 for stimulus delivery during our sensory paradigms which is integrated with our Mindware system. We also have Noldus software for video coding and analysis of observable behaviors. Intervention equipment includes Touchpoints, wristbands, an Interactive Metronome system and pressure vests (Vayu). We also have access to shared lab space within the Department of Occupational Therapy at VCU to conduct sensory integration intervention; this space has suspension points for swings as well as a variety of other equipment which adheres to the fidelity standards for Ayres Sensory Integration®. 

Funding and Current Projects

Research in our lab has been funded by the American Occupational Therapy Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Barth Syndrome Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, the Virginia Commonwealth University, Presidential Research Initiative Program, and the AD Williams Research fund at VCU.  Research in our lab has yielded over 35 publications in the last 10 years and numerous state, national, and international publications. We are also proud to have mentored over 20 students who have either worked in the lab as research assistants or completed research projects in the lab as part of their dissertation/thesis work. Several of these students have gone on to accept teaching or research positions at other universities and are now mentoring other students.

The studies we are currently running are listed below: 

  • Comparing a parent -report measure to performance-based measures of vestibular function
  • Physiological Reactivity in Children with Sound Sensitivity
  • Comparing measures of sensation seeking in occupational therapy and psychology: A pilot study
  • The effects of sensory integration therapy on brain structure and connectivity in children with developmental coordination disorder
  • A longitudinal investigation into motor development patterns in Barth Syndrome

Lab Director

Stacey Reynolds, PhD, OTR/L 

  • Reynolds is an Associate Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She received her M.S. in Occupational Therapy from Gannon University and her PhD in Health Science with emphasis in Occupational Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2010 she was accepted into the Rehabilitation Research and Career Development (RRCD) program at the University of Florida and completed 2.5 years of mentored training in the area of behavioral neuroscience. In addition to twenty years of clinical experience, Dr. Reynolds has completed multiple funded research projects related to the etiology and characterization of sensory-motor disorders in neurodevelopmental disabilities using both human and animal models. Dr. Reynolds also holds the position of Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT), the highest ranked occupational therapy journal in the world.

Select Research Publications

Andelin, L., Schoen, S., & Reynolds, S. (in press). A multiple baseline design study investigating the effectiveness of occupational therapy using a sensory integration approach. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(6). 

Reynolds, S., Tucker, M.E., Cade, W.T., Clayton, N., & Lane, S.J. (2019). Dietary Intake and Hedonic Preferences for Sodium in Children, Adolescents and Young Adults with Barth Syndrome. International Journal of Rare Diseases and Disorders, 2(1), 1-9.  DOI: 10.23937/2643-4571/1710011

Lane, S.J. & Reynolds, S. (2019). Sensory over-responsivity as an added dimension in ADHD. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 13(40). doi: 10.3389/fnint.2019.00040

Reynolds, S. & Tucker, M.E. (2019). A multi-faceted approach to enhance pill-swallowing ability in children and adults with Barth Syndrome. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 73(4). doi:10.5014/ajot.2019.033134

Reynolds, S., Burgess, M.E., Hymowitz, N., Snyder, D., & Lane, S.J. (2017). Fungiform papillae number and olfactory threshold assessment in males with and without Barth syndrome. Chemosensory Perception, 10(3), 60-68. DOI 10.1007/s12078-017-9228-4

DeBoth, K.K. & Reynolds, S. (2017). A systematic review of sensory-based subtyping in autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 36, 44-56. Doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2017.01.005

Reynolds, S., Glennon, T., Ausderau, K., Bendixen, R.B., Miller-Kuhaneck, H., Pfeiffer, B… Bodison, S. et al. (2017). Issue Is: supporting children with differences in sensory processing and integration through occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(2), 7102360010p1-7102360010p10. doi:10.5014/ajot.2017.019281

Reynolds, S., Pfeiffer, B., & Miller-Kuhanek, H. (2016). Effectiveness of Frequency Modulation (FM) to Improve Academic Performance in Children with Auditory Processing Difficulties: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70(1). doi: 10.5014/ajot.2016.016832.

Reynolds, S., Kreider, C., Meeley, L.E., & Bendixen, R. (2015). Taste perception and sensory sensitivity: Relationship to feeding problems in boys with Barth Syndrome. Journal of Rare Disorders, 3(1), 1-9.

Reynolds, S., Lane, S.J., & Mullen, B. (2015) Effects of deep pressure stimulation on performance and physiological arousal: A pilot study of the Vayu Vest. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(3).

Lane, S.J., Reynolds, S., Dumenci, L. (2012). Sensory over-responsivity and anxiety in typical children and children with Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Cause or co-existence? American Journal of Occupational Therapy,66(5), 595-603.

Reynolds, S., Thacker, L., & Lane, S.J. (2012). Sensory processing, physiological stress, and sleep quality in children with autism. Occupational Therapy Journal of Research. 32(1), 246-257.

Reynolds, S., Bendixen, R.M.; Lawrence, T., & Lane, S.J. (2011). A  Pilot Study Examining Activity Participation, Sensory Responsiveness, and Competence in Children with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(11), 1496-1506.

Lane, S.J., Reynolds, S., & Thacker, L. (2010). Sensory over-responsivity and ADHD: differentiating using electrodermal responses, cortisol, and anxiety. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2010.00008

Reynolds, S., Lane, S. J., & Gennings, C. (2010). The Moderating Role of Sensory Over-responsivity in HPA Activity: A pilot study with children diagnosed with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 13(5), 468-478.

Reynolds, S., & Lane, S. J. (2009). Sensory Over-responsivity and Anxiety in Children with ADHD. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 63(4), 443-440.

Reynolds, S. & Lane, S. J. (2008). Diagnostic validity of Sensory Over-Responsivity: A review of the literature and case reports. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(3), 516-29