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Occupational Therapist Assistant
By an allied health world contributing writer
Published: February, 17 2011
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What is occupational therapy?
The American Occupational Therapy Organization (AOTA) states that occupational therapy as a profession involves “helping people across the lifespan participate in the activities they both want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations)”. And while we often equate the word “occupation” with “job,” an occupational therapy professional sees their clients’ occupations as the basic functions they need to perform in order to live the lives they want to live. So, for working adults, an occupation may truly be a job. A child’s occupation is learning and developing, an older adult’s occupation is living independently. Occupational therapy professionals identify the specific tasks that each client needs to be capable of performing in order to live his or her life as fully and independently as possible, and then work to eliminate any barriers to their clients’ success.
What is an occupational therapy assistant?
An occupational therapy assistant, or OTA, is a health care professional that delivers treatment under the direction of an occupational therapist. An occupational therapy assistant delivers rehabilitation services for a wide variety of conditions among all age groups. OTA’s need to be certified in most settings, and with certification, the practitioner may be described as a “COTA” (certified occupational therapy assistant.)
What is the working relationship between occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists?
Occupational therapy assistant programs are usually offered at the associate’s level and prepare graduates to assist supervising occupational therapists in delivering recuperative and rehabilitative therapeutic services to patients or clients. An occupational therapist (OT) completes a master’s program in most states and takes responsibility for the full spectrum of care a patient might need. An OTA and an OT have a close professional relationship in which they work collaboratively to help facilitate their clients’ occupational independence.
While the occupational therapist assumes responsibility for evaluations, assessments, changes in treatment plans and conclusions of care, an occupational therapy assistant can deliver nearly all the treatment, care, and therapy determined appropriate by the attending OT. While an OTA is not allowed to make changes to a treatment plan or complete evaluations, they are indispensable when it comes to actually administering and facilitating therapy.
The professional skills of occupational therapy assistants, and their close working relationship with occupational therapists, are essential to effective therapy and successful outcomes. OTAs must work cohesively within a team and must always adhere to the treatment plan established by the OT specific to each patient or client they see. Additionally, an occupational therapy assistant cannot provide clinical supervision to other OTAs or occupational therapy aides.
What does an occupational therapist assistant who works with adults do?
Occupational therapy assistant jobs may be found in rehabilitation units within hospitals that specialize in orthopedic conditions – where bones are mending– or within units that treat neurological problems, such as stroke or spinal cord injury.
General weakness and loss of function can be problematic for older adults who live through serious illnesses, such as pneumonia or infections, and retraining them to re-master their ability to function independently is also a responsibility taken on by occupational therapy professionals.
In outpatient clinics, OTAs may work as members of a team that treat injuries sustained on the job, or they may help those in need of additional therapy after being discharged from a hospital rehabilitation unit.
Occupational therapy is considered the rehabilitative field that is most knowledgeable with regard to managing injuries sustained to the hands, feet and upper body, so an OTA may work in environments with an OT who specializes in this delicate area.
In the mental health environment, occupational therapy assistants work as part of a team that treats impairment associated with an array of mental health diagnoses. An OTA in this environment will work to help these individuals learn the skills necessary to live successful, self-supporting lives within their communities. In the case of those who need the continued support of medical organizations, occupational therapy professionals help to integrate these individuals into activities that will enhance their quality of life and maximize successful socialization with those around them.
What does an occupational therapist assistant who works with children do?
OTA’s who work with children address the limitations that may accompany an illness or injury that prevents a child from developing normally or living the typical life of a youngster. OTA’s work in pediatric settings where they address the barriers to typical motor development, sensory management or cognitive development. These limitations are addressed through exercise, therapeutic techniques and environmental adaptation. An OTA may also be part of a team that customizes adaptive medical equipment, such as wheelchairs. Occupational therapy assistants may also work in a school setting with a team that helps children function within the classroom so as to allow them to receive a mainstream public school education.
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