"By working on research, I hope to gain a greater understanding of my field and area of interest. Having the hands-on experience will help me to apply what I learn in class and remember material more easily. My goals for the year include finishing my project, writing my paper, and practicing my presentation skills for poster fairs and presentations."
My main academic goal, to become an Occupational therapist, comes from my love of science and my drive to help children with disabilities especially children with autism. Within occupational therapy, I am most interested in sensory processing in the nervous system and sensory integration therapy. My research interests reflect my academic interests; I was most interested in autism research. There is still so much to learn about autism and that is what makes the topic so interesting. Specifically, I am most interested in sensory differences, repetitive behavior, and self injury in children with autism.
Academic and Other Awards
- University Scholars Program Scholarship (2011-2012)
- Anderson Scholar of High Distinction
- UF Health Science Honors (2010)
- Dean's List (2009-2011)
- IMPACT Autism
- Student Occupational Therapy Association
As the vice president of IMPACT Autism, I organize kid's day events once a month for Gainesville children with disabilities and their siblings. In addition, I volunteer/shadow a few occupational therapists here in Gainesville. Over the summer I participated in Noah's Endeavor program called Aquabilities. The program pairs kids with all different abilities with volunteers who help them learn to swim or to become better swimmers. I have also volunteered at camps, horse therapy programs, and Special Olympics.
Hobbies and Interests
- Participating in the student center at St. Augustine's Catholic Church, camping, hiking, kayaking, being out on the lake, and outdoors.
The Effects of Enriched Environments on Repetitive Behaviors in a Mouse Model of Autism
The three core symptoms of autism include impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, and repetitive and stereotyped behaviors or interests. Sensory and motor impairments are also very common features of autism. One common intervention approach used with children with autism is a technique called Sensory Integration (SI) therapy. Occupational therapist use SI therapy with the hope of ameliorating some of the symptoms of autism specifically sensory and motor impairments. Similar to Sensory Integration treatment, enriched environments used with animal models change the animals’ environment to provide sensory, motor, and cognitive opportunities and challenges. An inbred strain of mice (BTBR T+ tf/J) is considered to be a valid animal model of autism. These BTBR mice show autistic-like behaviors such as low exploratory behavior, high anxiety, reduced social interactions, and repetitive behaviors. This study will look at several measures of sensory and motor behaviors before and after enrichment period and compare them to controls. At the completion of this study, it is our expectation that we will determine the effects of enriched environments on lower and higher order repetitive/stereotyped behaviors. To test lower order repetitive behaviors, or motor stereotypy, we will analyze the grooming microstructure of the mice. The BTBR mice display significantly more grooming behaviors and patterns than do the control B6 mice. To test higher order repetitive behaviors, or cognitive rigidity, we will analyze the exploratory patterns of the mice as they contact four novel objects. These tests will help determine if enriched environments affect repetitive behaviors in mice. From the data, we hope to gain more evidence for Sensory Integration therapy as a useful technique for lowering repetitive behaviors in children with autism.