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News / Students May 26, 2023

How Occupational Therapy Assistants Work with Kids

May 26, 2023

ACC Q&A: How Occupational Therapy Assistants Work with Babies, Toddlers, and Children

In the field of occupational therapy, you have the ability to completely transform your clients’ lives starting at a very young age. Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) can work with clients of all ages, including babies, toddlers, children, and adolescents.

At American Career College, we get all types of questions about how OTAs interact with and help children. To provide insight into this aspect of the profession, we spoke with Dr. Vicky Vu, the Program Director of the Occupational Therapy Assistant program. Dr. Vu was able to shed some light on the important work that pediatric OTAs do and the impact it has on their young clientele.

ACC: How do occupational therapy assistants work with kids?

Dr. Vu: OTAs play the important role of helping children meet their developmental milestones, both physically and cognitively, so they can facilitate meaningful interactions in their environment, whether that is at home, in school, or in their community.

In early intervention, OTAs work with babies by teaching them to meet their milestones such as rolling, sitting, and crawling. OTAs work on postural control and upper extremity strength with their young clients so they can perform activities of daily living, which include dressing, self-feeding, and play activities. OTAs learn to assess and provide intervention for children with decreased movement, social skills, and overall functional skills due to prematurity, congenital anomalies, genetic disorders, and other conditions.

Pediatric occupational therapy assistants can work with kids in a variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, and school systems.

ACC: What types of roles can OTAs have working with kids in schools?

Dr. Vu: OTAs are experts in creating treatment plans. In the school setting, OTAs work with children who may have difficulty understanding how to interpret the sensory input from their environment. For example, OTAs work with children with autism to work on social skills and functional play skills in order to develop the best opportunity to learn in the school system. OTAs learn the skill set to help children regulate sensory input so they can engage in the typical roles of a child (i.e., communicating, socializing, making connections with others, playing, being students, etc.).

Additionally, pediatric OTAs work on the development of postural control as well as fine motor skills such as grasping and prehension (gripping), which are important for children’s ability to function in school. This may also include the development of handwriting skills.

ACC: What are the tools used to help children learn these tasks?

Dr. Vu: OTAs can create splints or adaptive equipment to help kids be more independent in self-care (i.e., dressing, bathing, hygiene, etc.), handwriting, feeding, and manipulating toys. When providing occupational therapy for kids who have autism, OTAs use tools such as swings, physioballs, and obstacle courses to help their clients become more organized so they can participate in age-appropriate skills.

ACC: What types of disabilities do pediatric OTA clients support?

Dr. Vu: OTAs serve clients who have a wide array of diagnoses, such as prematurity, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, autism, muscular dystrophy, and genetic disorders like Down syndrome.

ACC: What do OTA students learn about disabilities and approaches for helping kids?

Dr. Vu: Students learn the spectrum of disabilities and treatment approaches. The foundational role of OTAs is to develop treatment plans, which requires the understanding of diagnosis and areas of deficits and strengths. But ultimately, their role is to find meaningful and creative solutions for kids to meet their goals in a fun way. If your client is having fun and has no idea that they are working on functional skills, then you’ve done a great job integrating your clinical reasoning skills into a fun activity that brings joy to the child or to whoever your client is.

ACC: How do OTAs work with behavioral therapists?

Dr. Vu: OTAs can work collaboratively with behavioral therapists to facilitate treatment sessions that support the functional goals established by the team. OTAs are trained in using behavioral frames of reference and techniques to increase motivation through reinforcement of positive behaviors.

ACC: Do OTAs do house calls?

OTAs can work in home health in early intervention programs. They can work on helping babies and toddlers meet their milestones in movement and hand skills. Typically, children are seen in an outpatient setting, but if they are medically fragile, then OTAs could possibly work in the home.

How to Become an OTA

In ACC’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program, students learn how to help clients with physical impairments, mental illness, or developmental challenges become more independent and improve their quality of life. In this program, which is offered at our Orange County campus in Anaheim, California, you can earn your OTA associate degree in 20 months. The OTA program at ACC is taught in a blended format combining online classes with in-person instruction. Learn more about our Occupational Therapy Assistant training.

About Dr. Vicky Vu:
Dr. Vicky Vu is the Program Director of the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at American Career College. She is a licensed occupational therapist who focused her career on neonatal and pediatric OT. Dr. Vu has a doctorate degree and a master’s degree in occupational therapy, a Master of Business Administration, and a bachelor’s degree in biopsychology.

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