CSU researcher looking forward to international collaboration after receiving Fulbright Scholar Award

Patti Davies standing in her lab with equipment and computer screens
Patti Davies in her lab in the University Center for the Arts.

Patricia (Patti) Davies is packing her bags and taking her talents to Denmark. The Colorado State University Department of Occupational Therapy professor recently received a Fulbright Scholar Award and will be collaborating with faculty from the Department of Health Science and Technology at Aalborg University in Aalborg, Denmark, from September through December 2022.

Patti Davies standing in front of green bushes and a brick building
Professor Patti Davies

Davies, a neuroscientist, and co-director of the Brainwaves Research Laboratory in the department, has been researching brain development and the relationship between brain function and behavior for many years. Davies’ research project for her Fulbright Scholar Award titled Sensory Processing Challenges Impact Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (SPCIC) Project, will add a cross-cultural element.

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence is on the rise across the world and is a mounting public health issue,” said Davies. “Children with ASD have difficulties participating in everyday activities due to sensory challenges. The SPCIC project will establish a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research team to gain an understanding of the nature of the sensory processing deficits in children with ASD using brain imaging techniques.”

During the grant period, Davies and her colleagues will plan, develop the tools, and begin collecting data in typically developing children and children with autism in Denmark.

A team effort

Patti Davies holding a yellow head cap and electrodes
A cap and electrodes used in Patti Davies’ research.

Davies will be collaborating with Sabata Gervasio and Steffen Frahm, both faculty in Aalborg University’s Department of Health Science and Technology and Bill Gavin from CSU on this project. Gervasio is interested in investigating brain processing in children with autism, so Davies will bring her expertise in this area to the project. Frahm specializes in measuring sensory threshold and discrimination on the skin. This is an area of research not being done in the Brainwaves Research Lab, and Davies is looking forward to working with Frahm in developing these skills to bring this type of research back to the lab at CSU. Gavin has expertise in time-frequency and signal analyses and is the biostatistician for the project.

Davies, who is the former associate dean for research in the College of Health and Human Sciences, has set additional research goals she is eager to accomplish while away from Fort Collins.

“The goal of the research portion of this project is to gain a better understanding of multifaceted aspects of sensory processing challenges in children with ASD, by examining the relationships between sensory thresholds (the minimum amount of sensory stimulation that a person can sense), the brain activity during sensory stimulation, and the child’s behaviors in everyday activities that require processing sensory information,” Davies explained.

The final research study of the SPCIC project is to determine if the intensity of sensory information, how the brain processes sensory information, or both, are factors in the behaviors expressed by children with ASD. Answering this question will help to innovate how ASD symptoms are addressed.

Davies plans to then initiate a research project designed to examine both typically developing children and children with ASD, the relationships between sensory thresholds, brain activity during sensory processing, and parent reports about their child’s behavior in everyday activities that require processing sensory information.

Always moving forward

Patti Davies holding yellow head cap in front of computer screens
Patti Davies showing images of brain activity measured by electrodes.

As if Davies won’t be busy enough, she also has plans to learn more about the health care system in Denmark and, specifically, the diagnosis and treatment for children with disabilities. “I especially look forward to interacting with occupational therapists and other health professionals in community health settings,” says Davies.

In addition to her research, Davies will also have the unique opportunity to provide educational opportunities to students at Aalborg University. The goals related to the educational portion of her Fulbright Scholar Award are to experience higher education in Denmark and to be able to provide some perspective to Danish students about health care for children with disabilities in the United States.

Outside of the educational realm, Davies is excited to learn more about the culture of Denmark. “I have learned that they have over 7,000 miles of bike paths in Denmark, so I plan to cycle through the countryside.”

For Davies, being the recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and having the opportunity to research and collaborate with scholars in Denmark is just the beginning of what she hopes will be a fruitful partnership.

“I am very excited for this experience to collaborate with researchers in Denmark and nurturing a long-term collaboration with these researchers. I am also honored to represent the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar,” she said.

Learn more about Davies and her research by listening to her Health and Human Science Matters podcast episode where she discusses her research on children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and autism, and how music therapy can help them develop, grow, and thrive.

The Department of Occupational Therapy is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.