University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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2017 Commencement: Joseph Christian Ungco OTD ’17

, in General News

By Mike McNulty

Joseph Christian Ungco, member of the USC Chan OTD degree class of 2017/Photo by Heather Van Buren

Joseph Christian Ungco, member of the USC Chan OTD degree class of 2017/Photo by Heather Van Buren

Joseph Christian Ungco ’07, ’14, MA ’16, OTD ’17 has a clear vision for the profession’s future. Thanks in part to the occupational therapy doctorate degree he will receive this Friday during the 75th annual commencement ceremony of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Ungco is now bringing it to fruition.

The four-time Trojan and New York native, who is already licensed and working back in Manhattan, is determined to advance occupational therapy’s capacity for meeting the specific health needs of LGBTQ populations, particularly clients who are transgender and otherwise fluid in regards to the gender spectrum.

“The OTD program at USC really empowers people who can see occupational therapy’s distinct value,” Ungco says, “especially in ways that the profession has yet to explore.”

Between interning at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Youth Services Program, co-teaching a course on clinical strategies for inclusivity and developing a capstone project, Ungco’s doctoral experience has been a multi-faceted year of innovation and leadership in queer health. Turning one’s passions into actions is at the heart of USC’s OTD program, Ungco says.

“If it doesn’t exist, you can make it a reality.”

Learn more about USC’s 134th commencment ceremony at and USC Chan’s 75th commencement ceremony at

2017 Commencement: Alicia Mendoza MA ’17

, in General News, Student News, Alumni News

By Mike McNulty

Alicia Mendoza, member of the USC Chan master's degree class of 2017/Photo by Angela Lally

Alicia Mendoza, member of the USC Chan master’s degree class of 2017/Photo by Angela Lally

For as long as she can remember, Alicia Mendoza MA ’17 has admired the work of Christian missionaries. In occupational therapy she found a career with similar attributes: provision of needed services, expertise for developing community programs and individualized focus on helping people transcend their circumstances, whatever and wherever they may be.

While at USC, the Northern California native has worked with Professor Mary Lawlor on research projects and manuscript writing, has taught students as a classroom assistant and has served as the division’s co-chair of the USC Student-Run Clinic. But the biggest lesson, she says, is fueled by her faith.

“I think I’ve learned how to be with people,” says Mendoza, who will receive her master’s degree in occupational therapy this Friday during the 75th annual commencement ceremony of the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

“Jesus spent time with people in their hard places, and it can be painful to just be with people when they’re suffering. But as occupational therapists, sometimes that’s the most powerful thing we can do.”

Learn more about USC’s 134th commencment ceremony at and USC Chan’s 75th commencement ceremony at

AOTA president Amy Lamb keynotes 2017 commencement

, in General News

By Mike McNulty

2017 USC Chan commencement speaker Amy Lamb/Photo courtesy of the American Occupational Therapy Association

2017 USC Chan commencement speaker Amy Lamb/Photo courtesy of the American Occupational Therapy Association

Amy Lamb OTD, OT/L, FAOTA, president of the American Occupational Therapy Association and an occupational therapy faculty member at Eastern Michigan University, will deliver the keynote address at the USC Chan Division’s 75th annual commencement ceremony on May 12.

Lamb has a valuable combination of frontline clinical practice and health care policy experience at the state and federal levels. Her areas of expertise include health care policy, health care reform, prevention and wellness and women’s roles in leadership positions.

She first became involved with public policy working with the health policy committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She was the paid lobbyist of the Nebraska Occupational Therapy Association from 2000 to 2008.

Her clinical experience spans school-based pediatrics, acute care and geriatrics. She also operates a private practice focused on program development and intervention in prevention and wellness.

Lamb received the 2011 AOTA Lindy Boggs Award for her advocacy and political action efforts in support of the profession. In 2012 she was selected to the AOTA Roster of Fellows, an award recognizing occupational therapists who have made a significant contribution to the continuing education and professional development of association members.

In 2012 she was elected AOTA vice president and in 2015 she was elected AOTA president-elect and began her three-year presidential term in 2016.

As AOTA president, Lamb works to enact the association’s agenda while educating occupational therapy professionals about the association’s roles within broader health care landscapes. She coordinates with AOTA staff to organize grassroots advocacy activities, inform association members about its ongoing activities and work with members of Congress and their staffers to advance the association’s interests on Capitol Hill.

Nearly 250 degrees, including nearly 70 doctorate of occupational therapy degrees and 2 PhD degrees in occupational science, will be conferred during this year’s satellite commencement ceremony which is preceded by the university’s main commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. in Alumni Park on USC’s University Park Campus.

Learn more about commencement at

Building better doctor’s visits for adults with autism

, in General News

Newly funded study aims to improve primary health care encounters of autistic adults

By Mike McNulty/USC News

Challenges with communication, environmental factors and decision-making processes can add to the anxiety of a doctor's visit for a person with autism./Photo by Martin Kenny (Flickr)

Challenges with communication, environmental factors and decision-making processes can add to the anxiety of a doctor’s visit for a person with autism./Photo by Martin Kenny (Flickr)

During his first visit to the doctor’s office, Bobby fled from the waiting room, ran outside the building and hid in the parking lot.

During his second visit, the 22-year-old’s anxiety was just as palpable. Bobby began jumping in place, repeating dialogue from his favorite TV show and complaining that the office’s bright, buzzing fluorescent lights hurt his eyes and ears. Because he refused to allow any care providers to touch his body, his initial physical examination again had to be postponed.

Bobby — who is diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, a subtype of autism that has since been folded under the umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder — is one example of how seemingly straightforward primary care medical visits can pose complex and challenging experiences for adults with ASD.

What helps and hurts the office experience

“Adults with autism spectrum disorder face unique challenges to receiving optimal medical care due to a number of factors,” said Leah Stein Duker, assistant professor of research at the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

These factors include difficulties with communication, challenges making health care decisions, overstimulation within the clinic environment and a lack of ASD-specific training for providers, she said. Some physicians interviewed in a 2013 survey, for example, erroneously considered autism as only a childhood disorder.

“There is a limited research detailing the specific needs of adults with ASD during primary care health encounters, and even fewer evidence-based strategies to facilitate these experiences,” Duker said. “They are often fraught with serious difficulties for the patients, their caregivers and their practitioners — this means that the quality of their medical care is not what it could be or what it should be.”

Awareness and acceptance

April is National Autism Awareness Month, an annual public service campaign for increasing awareness, acceptance and celebration of people on the autism spectrum. But unfortunately, there are no professional standards or agreed-upon best practices for primary care encounters with autistic adults. This is a population that will only continue growing as the wave of children who were diagnosed with autism beginning in the early 1990s — and which grew exponentially throughout the ’90s and ’00s — comes of age.

Duker hopes to change that with a new research grant she recently received from the American Occupational Therapy Foundation. The grant will fund Duker’s study, “Environmental Barriers and Facilitators for Adults with ASD during Primary Care Health Encounters,” in which she and her team will conduct interviews with adults with ASD, their caregivers and their providers to better understand the types of problems they face during primary care. The interviews will form the basis for a preliminary intervention plan which will likely include target strategies such as physician education, caregiver training, tips for promoting patient–provider communication and decision-making strategies for patients and caregivers.

“My objective is to improve health care services for adults with ASD, which can ultimately enhance both short- and long-term outcomes for this vulnerable and underserved population,” Duker said.

What about Bobby?

At a presentation during last month’s annual conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Duker and her colleague Beth Pfeiffer, associate professor at Temple University’s College of Public Health, highlighted Bobby’s case to demonstrate how occupational therapy successfully helped Bobby’s primary care providers improve his overall care access and experience.

His occupational therapist and the medical office nursing staff developed a verbal and visual “picture schedule” for each phase of subsequent office visits in order to help Bobby know what to expect. To reduce his anxiety, Bobby’s family reviewed the picture schedule and did role-playing with him during the week prior to each visit.

The occupational therapist worked with office staff to section off a “quiet area” of the waiting room with dimmed lighting, a sound machine to muffle office noises and walls painted a soothing light blue color.

In-service training was given to the physicians and staff about strategies to support successful visits, including the value of visual cues and alternative methods of communication. The office also established a scheduling policy to ensure that patients with developmental and sensory needs like Bobby can book appointments when the clinic is not as busy, enabling extra time to complete exams and work with families and caregivers.

These are seemingly simple tips that can go a long way toward improving the total primary care experience for adults with ASD.

“Truly patient-centered care is respectful and responsive to individual patients, whatever their specific preferences and needs might be,” Duker said. “I see a future in which our medical system delivers exactly that.”

Mattingly among three USC faculty honored as 2017 Guggenheim Fellows

, in General News, Student News, Alumni News

Fellowship to support writing new book on stigma

By Mike McNulty with Susan Bell and Ian Geckler/USC News

Professor Cheryl Mattingly

Professor Cheryl Mattingly

Professor Cheryl Mattingly has been honored with a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship, one of only three USC faculty members to receive the prestigious award. She joins a diverse cohort of 173 scholars, artists and scientists from across North America selected from a pool of almost 3,000 applicants by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Mattingly, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is a medical and psychological anthropologist who is inspired by phenomenology, the philosophy of ethics and narrative theory.

Her research — including Boundary Crossings, a longitudinal study of health care trajectories in 30 African-American children with illnesses and/or disabilities, their families and the practitioners who serve them — has focused on the experience of disability, family care and health disparities for minority populations. Throughout her work, she has aimed to document more than large-scale forces of social injustice.

The Guggenheim Fellowship will enable her to concentrate on her new book, Category Trouble: Stigma as Moral Experience. The book will explore recent attention to “moral striving” in anthropology that has highlighted how people struggle to transform or exceed the lives they inhabit — aspirations that can sometimes increase suffering. The writing will be more experimental than in her previous works, she said.

“Can I write compelling nonfiction short stories that also have a certain theoretical, even existential, resonance? Can my stories help us rethink stigma as a painful and personal lived experience, as a social marker of marginalized groups and also as a feature of the human condition?”

Since its establishment in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted more than $350 million in Fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals including scores of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, poets laureate, and members of the various national academies. The program remains an especially significant source of support for scholars in the humanities and social sciences.

Mattingly said she was stunned at the news she had won a Guggenheim, but added that she felt a special connection to the honor.

“There is deep significance for me in receiving a Guggenheim because of the program’s long history as a supporter of innovation and creativity, especially in the arts and humanities,” Mattingly said.

“Although anthropology is generally classified as a social science, I have always been a humanities-oriented type. One reason I gravitated toward anthropology as a discipline was because its research approach and methods encouraged us to listen carefully to the stories people told us and to record those stories ‘in their own words.’”

Mattingly is perhaps best known to occupational therapists for her scholarship, beginning in the 1980s, on the clinical reasoning of occupational therapy practitioners. Along with Maureen Fleming, Mattingly’s 1991 articles published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy as well as their 1994 book, Clinical Reasoning: Forms of Inquiry in a Therapeutic Practice, are considered seminal works on the topic of occupational therapists’ clinical reasoning and actions during patient care encounters.

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