Occupational Therapy’s Role in Driver Rehabilitation1

Occupational Therapy’s Role in Driver Rehabilitation

As occupational therapists, we consider driving to be an instrumental activity of daily living (IADL) that may sometimes be addressed as part of treatment, but did you know that occupational therapy’s role in driver rehabilitation can be considered its own practice area entirely?

Driver rehabilitation is a specialized area of occupational therapy that helps someone regain independence in the area of driving after experiencing an acute or traumatic injury, illness, or disability.

People who benefit from driver rehab may have impairments in the strength or motion of their legs and/or arms. They may also have some minor cognitive issues or vision concerns that impact their driving capabilities. Individuals who are often candidates for driver rehab may have diagnoses such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, lower extremity amputations, or other conditions that may impact driving.

So how does occupational therapy fit into driving rehab and community mobility?

Occupational therapists can address driving rehab and community mobility in the following ways:

  • Educating new parents about infant car seats or booster seats for children
  • How to address special medical needs for children riding in the car
  • Community mobility for parents and caregivers with disabilities
  • Bicycling safety and use
  • Skill training for problem-solving, endurance, range of motion, strength, coordination, vision, and more
  • Walking in the community
  • Using public transit
  • Coping with a loss of driving
  • Personal safety in the community
  • Navigating community appointments (doctors, hospitals, stores, banks, etc.)
  • Reading and interpreting signage, maps, and GPS communications
  • School bus safety
  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Adapting cars and other vehicles for drivers and passengers with disabilities
  • Engaging socially in the absence of driving or use of public transportation

Driving is something many people take for granted, since it often becomes second nature after years of doing it multiple times a day. For this reason, driver rehab is a very impactful practice area of occupational therapy that can help many people maintain their independence in a very personal way. If this sounds like something you’re interested in for yourself or it is an area you simply want to learn more about, read on.

Disabled man preparing to drive a car, horizontal

Education

Since occupational therapists graduate as generalists, they have some idea of how occupational therapy can help people in the realm of driving. You may recall learning about driving in OT school as it pertains to safety strategies, body mechanics, and maybe even simple adaptations that can be used to improve someone’s function in this area.

However, there is much more than meets the eye for driver rehab. Experienced therapists in this area have undergone more specialized training to gain the skills and know-how necessary to bring people back to their prior level of functioning as drivers.

Training

Driver rehabilitation is recognized by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) as a specialty area of practice that therapists can get certified in. Therapists who have 600 hours of working experience as a therapist addressing driving and other forms of community mobility will be eligible for AOTA’s Specialty Certification in Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM) after completing an exam.

Therapists with this credential are then able to use SCDCM after their name, which indicates their expertise in driver rehabilitation and allows them to stand out from other providers.

Driver Rehabilitation Specialist

The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) also offers two credentialing programs for driver rehab specialists. These are similar in some ways to the one offered by AOTA, but the difference is that this program is open to a range of other professionals, including allied health providers, driving instructors, and more.

The first course is the Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS), which is a good fit for people who are currently providing driver rehabilitation in the form of “planning, developing, coordinating, and implementing driving services for individuals with disabilities.”

There is no additional education associated with this credential, so it is easier and quicker to obtain than the other course offered by ADED.

Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist

The Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) is a more comprehensive program that consists of a formal examination to test someone’s knowledge in the area of driver rehabilitation.

This is also available to allied health providers and lay professionals alike, but someone must have a documented 1,660 hours of driver rehabilitation experience in order to be eligible for the exam.

Since this credential is more extensive than the DRS, it does come along with a continuing education requirement of 30 hours of driving-related training per three year cycle.

Disabled man in wheelchair drive a car

American Association of Retired Persons

If you want to learn more about driver rehab but don’t quite qualify for the above certifications or you simply don’t want the commitment, you can dabble in smaller courses such as the one offered by AARP.

This is called “We Need To Talk” and is specifically suited for caregivers and others who may need to discuss a license surrender with their loved one. These conversations can be difficult, but it’s not uncommon for therapists in skilled nursing facilities, home health, or hospital settings to participate in or initiate this type of discussion with a patient and their family. This option is self-paced, online, and free to all.

CarFit

An organization called CarFit is another helpful resource for therapists interested in the area of driver rehabilitation. CarFit was founded by the American Auto Association (AAA) in collaboration with AOTA and AARP to assist older adults with driving-related needs. The aim of CarFit is preventive in nature and it is intended to assist older adults in learning more about ways to better adapt their car to their needs to keep them safely driving as long as possible.

They offer a free webinar for people who are interested. Another good way to either get involved with CarFit or begin your driver rehabilitation certification journey is to begin volunteering with this organization. This will not only allow you to learn more about the process, but give you hands-on experience in seeing and helping to modify cars to accommodate certain health needs.

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As you can see, there are a range of ways that you can begin to address driver rehabilitation in your current role as an OT or gain more experience to foray exclusively into this practice area. If you are an occupational therapist interested in this area, another good way to learn more about it is to shadow an occupational therapist currently working in driver rehabilitation.

It is also possible to begin doing in-services or one-to-one training with patients if you are working in a setting such as a skilled nursing facility, acute rehabilitation center, inpatient hospital, or even an outpatient clinic. You can even complete screenings for residents of assisted living facilities to prevent any issues from occurring and offer helpful strategies to help them maintain their driving skills.

These are all areas where someone’s independence in driving may be impacted due to a recent health problem, so it could be a good opportunity to expand your skill set and gain experience in preparation for future credentialing.

What part of driving and community mobility would you like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments!

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