Sharp explains Developmental Coordination DisorderPatti Sharp, OTD, OTR/L, graduated from the post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. Her recent research was selected for presentation at the 2020 American Occupational Therapy Association Conference & Expo in March. Despite the conference cancellation due to COVID-19, her research on Operationalizing the Evidence on Developmental Coordination Disorder for Occupational Therapists is relevant for all occupational therapy (OT) professionals.

Currently, Sharp co-leads the Developmental Coordination Disorder Team at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and is a certified Cognitive Orientation to Daily Occupational Performance (CO-OP) therapist and trainer. She loves the connection between the therapist and the patient and embraces the profession’s devotion to helping those in need. Sharp’s desire to teach others better ways of doing things is evident in her research on Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).

Developmental Coordination Disorder

Sharp explained that “Developmental Coordination Disorder is a very prevalent disorder, affecting 5-6% of the population. It describes the difficulty in planning movements needed to accomplish daily tasks (tasks one needs to do, wants to do, or is expected to do).” In the absence of any other medical condition, Sharp said, “it can look like general clumsiness.” Despite its prevalence, it is highly underdiagnosed and often misdiagnosed as ADHD, sensory processing difficulties, or behavior problems.

Sharp uses Developmental Coordiation DisorderThough DCD cannot be cured, Sharp said, “intervention through occupational and physical therapy is proven to be effective at increasing overall skill performance, participation in activities, and quality of life.” Sharp and her team strive to bring awareness to this diagnosis so that children are able to get proper diagnoses and receive effective treatments in a timely manner.

Sharp’s research dives into the evolution of their program from the beginning. Sharp explains that “over the past 3 years, we have systematically instructed our department of over 250 therapists in screening, assessing, requesting diagnoses, and treating children with DCD. We have seen an increase in the use of recommended tools, diagnoses assigned, proper interventions used, and functional goal achievement for our patients.”

Matching the Right Intervention with the Right Child

The profession of OT is evolving at a rapid pace, moving from the medical model back to a more functional and top-down approach. “For someone who has been in practice for many years, this can require a huge shift from what we were instructed in school to what we should be doing now. This can be incredibly overwhelming,” said Sharp.

Through her research, Sharp hopes “to show others how we have flipped some ideas and practices completely upside down in order to empower other OTs to take steps to do the same. I don’t want OTs to just do what they do because it’s always been done that way…we are an evolving science-based profession.”

She adds, “Since learning about DCD and proper intervention, I’ve not only felt better about the product I deliver to my patients and families, but I’ve seen miracles happen. Using the CO-OP approach, I’ve helped kids learn to tie shoes in a single OT session, whereas before I used to spend months working on it. I’ve seen kids finally engage with me, feeling like it’s the first time someone has used their language and asked them their opinions. I’ve seen kids who are generally grumpy and ‘hate everything’ return after a week of working on a task with CO-OP with their heads held high and ready to work on something new. Being able to match the right intervention with the right child at the right time… it’s an unimaginable power.”