Faculty Mentor: Sharon Cermak EdD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Research Lab: Sensory Adapted Dental Environments Lab
Year of Entry: 2016
I am currently a PhD student helping to administer this federally funded study which aims to reduce stress during dental visits for children with Autism through environmental adaptations. In my role as a graduate research assistant I work with children diagnosed with Autism and their families to carry out study related activities including consenting, diagnosis verification [Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2)] and set up and data collection during the intervention. In addition, I am also one of the members of the team that is responsible for coding our primary outcome measure.
I am also incredibly interested in aiding underserved populations and improving patient-provider interactions. As such, I have sought out opportunities to continue to strengthen the cultural responsiveness of Occupational Therapy practitioners by providing trainings to students and entry-level clinicians at national conferences and as a guest lecturer for entry level occupational therapy educational programs. I hope to continue this in some capacity in the future as my own research interests include serving individuals with autism, addressing health disparities and improving patient-provider relationships.
Master of Arts (MA)
in Occupational Therapy
2016 | University of Southern California
Master of Education (MEd)
in Policy, Planning & Administration
2008 | Boston University
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
in Psychology; Religious Studies (double major)
2003 | Arizona State University
Como, D. H., Stein Duker, L. I., Polido, J. C., & Cermak, S. A. (2021). Oral health and autism spectrum disorders: A unique collaboration between dentistry and occupational therapy. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(1), 135. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18010135 Show abstract
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are at risk for oral health disparities. With the dramatic rise in ASD prevalence to 1 in 54 children, it is likely that an increasing number of dental practitioners will encounter or be asked to treat children with ASD. This paper reviews explanations related to the increasing prevalence of ASD, provides reasons why children with ASD are at increased risk for poor oral health, and discusses unique interprofessional collaborations between dental practitioners and occupational therapists. Occupational therapists and dentists can work together to plan modifications to the dental environment or adapt dental protocols to reduce some of the barriers encountered by those with ASD, provide desensitization strategies before the clinic visit, or help a child with emotional regulation during clinical treatments.
Keywords. autism spectrum disorder; dentistry; interprofessional collaboration; occupational therapy; oral health
Floríndez, L. I., Floríndez, D. C., Como, D. H., Secola, R., & Stein Duker, L. I. (2020). Differing interpretations of health care encounters: A qualitative study of non-Latinx health care providers’ perceptions of Latinx patient behaviors. PLoS ONE, 15(8), e0236706. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236706 Show abstract
Introduction. Due to provider shortages, it is probable that non-Latinx health care providers (HCPs) will treat Latinx patients. Because of this discrepancy, both providers and patients are likely to experience barriers and cultural differences during medical encounters. This article discusses select cultural factors and behaviors such as language, communication styles, and health care practices of Latinx families through the lens of their non-Latinx HCPs. The purpose of this study was to examine how non-Latinx HCPs perceive and describe certain behaviors they observe during healthcare visits with Latinx patients and families, and to illustrate how those behaviors can alternatively be interpreted as representing Latinx cultural norms.
Methods. This qualitative study used a template coding approach to examine narrative interviews conducted with 18 non-Latinx HCPs to report how they described interactions with and the behaviors of their Latinx patients. Template codes were based on well-established Latinx cultural norms (e.g., familismo, respeto, personalismo, simpatía, confianza).
Results. Many HCP descriptions of Latinx patient behaviors were coded into the Latinx cultural values categories (familismo, personalismo, simpatía, respeto, and confianza) by the research team. Results suggest that HCPs were not aware of how several of their patients’ behaviors may be culturally grounded, and that cultural differences between HCPs and their Latinx patients may exist.
Discussion. Understanding how Latinx-specific cultural norms may be exhibited by Latinx patients and their families during healthcare encounters has potential to improve providers’ understanding of patient behavior, helping to promote culturally congruent care for Latinxs.
Como, D. H., Floríndez, L. I., Tran, C. F., Cermak, S. A., & Stein Duker, L. I. (2020). Examining unconscious bias embedded in provider language regarding children with autism. Nursing and Health Sciences, 22(2), 197-204. https://doi.org/10.1111/nhs.12617 Show abstract
In healthcare settings, language used by healthcare providers can influence provider–patient encounters with individuals with autism spectrum disorder, impacting feelings of stigma and marginalization. This study highlights the unconscious biases healthcare providers might have regarding their patients with autism spectrum disorder and how those beliefs are articulated. Seven pediatric dentists participated in two focus groups to describe strategies to improve oral care for children with autism spectrum disorder. While completing the primary analyses, additional codes emerged related to healthcare provider biases; these data are the focus of this study. Three themes were identified: (i) “healthcare microaggressions” describe how healthcare providers portray their patients in subtly negative ways; (ii) “marginalization” denotes the use of exclusionary language identifying children with autism spectrum disorder as different; and (iii) “preconceptions” include comments that highlight biases about patients. The findings provide insight into the implicit biases that might be held by healthcare providers and how they manifest in language. Despite increased emphasis on cultural competency, healthcare providers might unconsciously use language that could negatively impact patient–provider rapport and increase stigma in already marginalized populations. Further research is necessary to explore how these biases could relate to quality of care.
Floríndez, L. I., Floríndez, D. C., Floríndez, F. M., Como, D. H., Pyatak, E., Baezconde-Garbanati, L., Polido, J. C., & Cermak, S. A. (2019). Oral care experiences of Latino parents/caregivers with children with autism and with typically developing children. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(16), 2905. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16162905 Show abstract
As a result of various barriers, several pediatric populations are at risk for poor oral health, including children with disabilities and children from under-represented populations, such as Latinos. To this end, this study aimed to better understand the factors that affect the oral health experiences of 32 Latino parents/caregivers from 18 families (n = 8 with a typically developing child and n = 10 with a child with Autism). Using a qualitative descriptive methodology, each family was interviewed twice. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and coded thematically to identify the individual, social, systemic, and culturally rooted factors contributing to oral health disparities in the families. The three themes that arose were “Why would I want to start trouble?”: Latino parents’ dissatisfaction with dental treatments, costs, and fear of the dentist and health care providers because of their ethnic minority status as key factors inhibiting receipt of dental care; “We have to put our children first”: prioritizing the oral care activities of their children over their own individual oral care needs; and “We always keep baking soda around”: familial and cultural influences on oral care habits. Understanding the oral health beliefs and experiences of Latino parents and caregivers of children with and without autism is critical for developing targeted prevention and intervention programs and reducing oral health disparities.
Keywords: Latinos; oral care; health disparities; children; culture; autism spectrum disorder
Como, D. H., Stein Duker, L. I., Polido, J. C., & Cermak, S. A. (2019). The persistence of oral health disparities for African American children: A scoping review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(5), 710. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16050710 Show abstract
Oral health is an important yet often neglected component of overall health, linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetic complications. Disparities exist for many groups, including racial and ethnic minorities such as African Americans. The purpose of this study was to examine the potential factors that perpetuate oral health care disparities in African American children in the United States. A systematic search of three literature databases produced 795 articles; 23 articles were included in the final review. Articles were analyzed using a template coding approach based on the social ecological model. The review identified structural, sociocultural, and familial factors that impact the ability of African Americans to utilize oral care services, highlighting the importance of the parent/caregiver role and the patient–provider relationship; policy-level processes that impact access to quality care; the value of autonomy in treatment and prevention options; and the impact of sociocultural factors on food choices (e.g., food deserts, gestures of affection). In conclusion, oral health care remains an underutilized service by African American children, despite increasing access to oral care secondary to improvements in insurance coverage and community-based programs.
Stein Duker, L. I., Floríndez, L. I., Como, D. H., Tran, C. F., Henwood, B. F., Polido, J. C., & Cermak, S. A. (2019). Strategies for success: A qualitative study of caregiver and dentist approaches to improving oral care for children with autism. Pediatric Dentistry, 41(1), 4E-12E. Show abstract
Purpose. Oral health is important to physical and psychological health. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience significant oral care challenges, but little research exists that examines efficacious interventions to improve care. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively explore parental and dentist reports of successful strategies implemented during dental care with children with ASD.
Methods. Focus groups were conducted with parents of children with ASD (N = two groups) and dentists treating children with ASD (N = two groups). Focus group transcripts were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a thematic analysis approach.
Results. Three key themes were identified from the parent focus groups: (1) what makes a good dentist; (2) flexibility and techniques—strategies used by the dentist; and (3) preparation—strategies for parents and caregivers of children with ASD. Four themes emerged from the dentist groups: (1) parents know best; (2) practice; (3) flexibility; and (4) a network of colleagues. Areas of overlap between the parents and dental providers included the importance of preparation, necessity of flexibility and creativity, and value of collaboration.
Conclusions. Our findings provide insight into techniques perceived by parents and dental providers to facilitate successful dental encounters for children with ASD.
PhD student Dominique Como earns NIH fellowship >
In July, USC Chan occupational science PhD student Dominique Como ’21 received a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award. Commonly referred to as a F31 award, the two-year fellowship funded by the National Institute of Dental and…
August 17, 2020