When you have a love for children, there’s no better role in healthcare than earning your occupational therapy assistant degree. An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) – together with the occupational therapist (OT) – helps very young children counteract development issues. You’ll love helping kids and their families address challenges that prevent children from reaching their full potential.
Development Issue: Primitive Reflexes
One of these development issues is referred to as primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes are involuntary movements controlled from the brain stem. Their purpose is to improve the chances of survival and ensure proper development.
Sometimes, these reflexes don’t occur as they should, and it’s the intervention of occupational therapy, carried out by an OT practitioner with an occupational therapy assistant degree who can offer both help and hope.
Primitive reflexes are supposed to have a short lifespan – they are evolutionary reflexes necessary in the early years of life. In other words, primitive reflexes support a baby’s survival during the first few months of life. If primitive reflexes are retained beyond one year, however, it may suggest a structural weakness or immaturity of the Central Nervous System (CNS).
What Happens Then, and How OTAs Help
Spotting retained primitive reflexes isn’t always easy. Parents may notice their children demonstrating certain behaviors where a retained primitive reflex is the cause, but the behavior is attributed to something else.
It’s important to discover retained primitive reflexes early, because this can affect academic performance and social interactions when a child starts school. Signs of Central Nervous System immaturities due to retained primitive reflexes can include:
What are Common Primitive Reflexes?
The Moro Reflex is more commonly known as a baby’s fight/flight reaction. If a child retains a Moro reflex past four months, the child may become over sensitive and over-reactive to sensory stimuli.
If not addressed, the child may exhibit certain behaviors:
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
Although important during the birthing process, the ATNR reflex should end by about nine months. A retained ATNR can include difficulty crossing from one side of the body to the other.
As OTAs learn in their occupational therapy assistant degree classes, symptoms might include trouble with eye movements, poor bilateral coordination, balance difficulties when the head turns, and a lack of a dominant side. A child with a retained ATNR often struggles with handwriting.
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
The TLR reflex is essential for proper head movement and prepares a child for rolling, crawling, standing, and walking.
In human development, the TLR reflex should integrate with other systems and disappear by about three-to-four years of age. Retention of the TLR can show itself in reduced muscle tone, balance difficulties, motion sickness, and a tendency to walk on the toes, rather than the entire foot.
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
The STNR emerges six-to-nine months after birth and integrates into the CNS by 11 months. The STNR helps infants defy gravity, as in assisting them to get from their tummy to a crawling position.
Children who retain the STNR may not crawl. Crawling is an essential human skill that trains the child’s eyes to cross the midline and learn eye-hand coordination.
Another symptom of a retained STNR reflex is poor muscle tone. This may show itself as slumping while sitting and can affect the ability to concentrate, such as in reading. Other difficulties may be sitting still at a desk or learning to swim.
What OTAs Know About Primitive Reflex Challenges
The presence of any retained primitive can contribute to difficulties in school. No child should have to face unnecessary school performance handicaps, so that’s why identifying such conditions needs to happen as early as possible.
Occupational therapy practitioners learn how to spot such challenges. Their expertise seeks to integrate the reflexes. Integration activities serve to help the central nervous system mature as it should. Often, this occurs during “play” activities that double as therapy.
Because OTAs work directly with kids and their families, OTAs are the ones who carry out programs such as a Rhythmic Movement Training and the Move to Learn Program.
As an OTA who’s earned an occupational therapy assistant degree, you’ll be on the leading edge of helping children fulfill their true potential. You can find out more about how OTAs help kids in this OTA blog.
Is an Occupational Therapy Assistant Degree a Solid Career Choice?
Yes. Earning a two-year OTA degree requires proper preparation and a determination to succeed. In addition to helping kids be successful in life, becoming an OTA offers a great career in the expanding healthcare field.
Occupational therapy assistants have higher average salaries than other healthcare support roles, such as Certified Nursing Assistants or Certified Medical Assistants, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The median salary for those completing an occupational therapy assistant degree is $58,510, dramatically higher than the median wage for all occupations ($50,600).
OTAs also have many different work settings:
Primitive reflexes are just one of many areas to learn about when considering an occupational therapy degree. Your inquisitive mind and caring spirit are just what kids facing developmental challenges need.
The Occupational Therapy Assistant Degree Program at CUKC
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university located in Overland Park, Kansas. CUKC is an ideal place to begin your healthcare education as an OTA.
The accelerated A.A.S. in Occupational Therapy Assistant degree at CUKC is a comprehensive OTA program consisting of 16 core courses and the four-to-five months of supervised fieldwork education. Our goal is to get you eligible to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
In the CUKC OTA program, hands-on instruction is the norm, aided by experienced OTA faculty and an on-campus simulated living quarters lab. Completing the OTA degree takes as little as two years.
Not sure when you’ll begin school? You’ll have the choice to start in spring, summer, or fall.
If helping kids is exciting for you, get more answers about earning an occupational therapy assistant degree by downloading our free OTA ebook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.