occupational therapy assistant working

What does a Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) do?

An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) is directly involved in giving therapy to people needing to improve or recover the skills needed for day to day living after an illness or injury. They work under the supervision of an occupational therapists and assist patients in their treatments such as stretching and other therapeutic activities.

Watch a video to learn what an occupational therapy assistant does.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

An occupational therapy assistant needs an associate’s degree from an accredited therapy assistant program. You can find these on the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website. These OTA programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).

OTA programs are usually 2 years in length and offered at technical or community colleges. Coursework includes psychology, biological sciences, and pediatric health and one must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork to gain practical work experience. Schools usually set this up for you during your program studies.

In addition, you must pass a board certification exam to practice and become licensed in the state you reside in or plan to work in. The National Board for Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) offers the certification exam. However, you should check with your states office to see what requirements they have to become licensed. Many schools have this information, but each state varies slightly.

Job Description of an Occupational Therapy Assistant

An occupational therapy assistant works with occupational therapists in developing and implementing treatments for patients who are recovering from an illness or injury. They assist them with improving their skills that are needed in their daily routines, such as, balance, standing or sitting, stretching and other forms of exercise.

They teach patients how to use certain equipment that may help them improve their mobility or manage more easily. They record the patient’s developments and provide the information to the occupational therapist. He or she helps children that have developmental challenges or disabilities to achieve socialization and coordination skills through therapeutic play activities.

The occupational therapy assistant educates patients on how to safely maneuver in or out of bed or a wheelchair. An important part of this job is to motivate and encourage patients to overcome their challenges. Some work may also include routine clerical work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a faster than average growth in this career field due in part to the baby boom and the aging population.

Free Teacher and Student Resources

The American Occupational Therapy Association has a free guide titled consider becoming an occupational therapy assistant (link opens in a new tab) that you may find helpful.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Video Transcript

People who struggle to feed themselves, get dressed, learn and work, depend on occupational therapy assistants and aides to help them reach their goals. These professionals help patients gain skills and learn new ways to perform activities of daily living, whether at home, school, or work. Occupational therapy (or OT assistants) carry out treatment plans made by occupational therapists, treating patients from young children to older adults. They guide patients in the use of special equipment and teach new ways to approach tasks such as moving from bed to a wheelchair. They document each step of patients’ progress and consult frequently with the OT.

Occupational therapy aides keep treatment areas clean, equipped, and ready for the next patient. They assist patients in moving to and from treatment areas, schedule appointments, and help patients fill out billing and insurance forms. Most assistants and aides work in occupational therapists’ offices, hospitals, and nursing care facilities. Both spend many hours a day on their feet, setting up equipment, bending, and lifting patients when necessary. Evening and weekend hours may be required.

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited program and in most states, a license. Aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent and are trained on the job. Helping restore meaningful activity to the lives of their patients provides a sense of purpose to OT aides and assistants.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides.

National Center for O*NET Development. 31-2011.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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