Occupational Therapy doctoral student named a 2021 Dean’s Fellow for her work with sensory integration

Outdoor portrait of Patricia Grady
Patricia Grady-Dominguez is one of the 2021-2022 Dean's Fellows for the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Patricia Grady-Dominguez, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Occupation and Rehabilitation Science Program, is one of two students to receive the 2021-22 Dean’s Fellowship from the College of Health and Human Sciences. The Dean’s Fellowship provides a $20,000 grant for doctoral students to continue and expand their research into their respective fields. (Read more about the second Dean’s Fellow, Susan Mingils, also an occupational therapy Ph.D. student.)

Grady-Dominguez is researching sensory integration, which is what forms the basis of a child’s interaction with the world, and more specifically, how to identify children who struggle with sensory integration through an international data collection project known as the Evaluation in Ayres Sensory Integration (EASI). With her research project, Grady-Dominguez will be able to determine the reliability of the data in the EASI, bringing it that much closer to being used in clinics around the world.

Grady-Dominguez is mentored by Anita Bundy, head of CSU’s Department of Occupational Therapy, who she credits with inspiring and supporting her through her academic journey.

Read the interview below to learn more about Grady-Dominguez and her research.

Tell us about your background and what inspired you to apply to become a CHHS Dean’s Fellow.

I am a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Occupation and Rehabilitation Science Ph.D. Program. I got my clinical master’s degree in Occupational Therapy at CSU in 2018 and started my Ph.D. right away. When I first came across the Dean’s Fellowship, I actually didn’t want to apply. I thought my research sounded too boring – it’s not a new intervention or approach, it’s honestly a lot of math. But I’m so glad I did because it has reaffirmed the importance of the work that our team is doing. We’re developing an assessment that will be used in clinics all around the world. The psychometric analysis that I’m conducting is a really critical part of that; without it, we can’t move forward. I am proud to represent the College of Health and Human Sciences as we move forward with this international endeavor.

Can you describe your research project and its significance?

I am conducting a psychometric analysis of the Evaluation in Ayres Sensory Integration – or the EASI. Sensory integration forms the basis for complex movement, interaction with environments, and learning – in other words, sensory integration allows children to engage with the world around them. The EASI will allow occupational therapists and members of related disciplines to identify children who struggle with sensory integration. The EASI is comprised of 20 tests of various aspects of this multifaceted construct. We are collecting normative data in 81 countries and 18 different languages for children ages 3-12 – this represents one of the largest normative data collection efforts in occupational therapy history. Establishing the validity and reliability of these tests (my Dean’s Fellowship project) is a critical step in normative data collection.

What do you hope will be the long-term impacts of your research?

I hope that my research will bring the Evaluation in Ayres Sensory Integration into clinics around the world. This test, unlike other measures of sensory integration, will allow therapists to directly evaluate children’s SI function without specialized equipment. The tests use open-source, 3D printed, or otherwise commercially available everyday items. The tests are available in multiple languages. These features will allow more children to have access to high-quality SI assessment, and ultimately, intervention and treatments. This will enable more just and equitable healthcare for all children.

How has your college education helped you get this far in your field?

I got my undergraduate degree in biochemistry and biophysics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where I discovered my love for the research process – finding questions to ask that haven’t been asked before, coming up with new ways to find answers, and sharing those answers with the world. However, my field at the time lacked the human connection that I wanted. The Department of Occupational Therapy and the College of Health and Human Sciences are a perfect match for my skills and ambitions – I want to apply my passion for research to a field with immediate impacts on children, their health, and their everyday participation in the world.

What inspired you to focus on this research?

There are only a handful of people in the field of occupational therapy who are experts in measurement. Now, I’m not an expert by any means, but I see myself developing expertise in this area of research. The beauty in this path is that I will be able to fuse my knowledge as a therapist with my skills as a researcher – this will allow me to develop tests that are more relevant and feasible for occupational therapists to deliver. I always joke with my adviser that someone has to love the boring side of things – the number crunching, the data cleaning, and the endless Excel files. I feel really lucky that I found a discipline where I can use my skills to have a powerful impact on people.

How have your mentors helped to guide you throughout your career so far?

My mentor, Department Head Anita Bundy, has been an incredible example, support system, and advocate for me throughout my career. As a master’s student, she fostered my potential and my passion for research and measure development. She made the daunting process more approachable and enjoyable. She connected me with other wonderful mentors, including CSU OT Professor Shelly Lane and Dr. Zoe Mailloux, adjunct associate professor in the Thomas Jefferson College OT department, who provided more opportunities for me to learn and grow as a researcher.

In the last two years, Dr. Bundy’s support has been truly invaluable. In February of 2020, I gave birth to my sweet, smart, and stubborn daughter Luna. When COVID-19 hit, I found myself at home with an infant and a medically fragile older adult (my inspirational grandmother, who deserves her own article…). Learning to balance my research career and my family responsibilities during a pandemic was incredibly difficult and it continues to be a challenge today. However, Dr. Bundy has encouraged me, stood behind me, and helped me be resilient and maintain focus on my career. I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

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