Faculty Mentor

Amy Van Hecke


Rawan Atari is a senior majoring in psychology. Rawan is a member of the Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology. After graduation in May 2015, she plans to pursue graduate study in clinical psychology.



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A research study based on the sensory integration theory was conducted to examine the effects of multi-sensory environment (MSE) on physiological arousal in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and special health care needs. Adapted environments may serve as a mechanism to treat anxiety levels in a population of children who experience more severe generalized anxiety symptoms than typically developing children. The sample consisted of children with community-based diagnoses of ASD and children with special health care needs, primarily children diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) from the Milwaukee Center for Independence (MCFI). Treatment for the autism sample was carried out by a trained MCFI staff member and treatment for children with special health care needs was carried out by a trained physical therapist. Electrodermal response was used as a measure to detect the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system. The measurement of electrodermal activity was recorded by a wireless bracelet device that recorded the skin conductance level of the participant prior to entering the sensory room, during treatment in the sensory room, and after exiting the sensory room. Results indicated increased arousal in children with CP, as sensory stimulation was the main goal of physical therapists. Results for the autism sample varied by participant and indicated that treatment needs to be individualized for optimal benefits. Findings support the use of MSE as an alternative technique to improve therapeutic opportunities for children with cerebral palsy by stimulating sensations that are otherwise generally dormant.

Publication Date

Fall 2014


Child Psychology | Clinical Psychology

Rawan Atari - The Influence of Multi-Sensory Environment on Physiological Response in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Children with Special Health Care Needs