Helping someone relearn how to perform routine daily activities is one of the many ways occupational therapy assistants improve lives every day.
An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) works with an occupational therapist to create and execute treatment plans for patients recovering from an illness or traumatic injury. Some work specifically with young children. Some work with adults, teaching them how to work around lost motor skills. Others work with patients of any age who have learning disabilities, behavioral problems, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or other disabilities. For example, an occupational therapy assistant could use play activities as a way to teach a child coordination and socialization skills.
OTAs work with clients in their homes, at hospitals and nursing care facilities, as well as at rehabilitation centers, schools, community centers and private clinics.
While OTAs work directly with patients, occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities, including preparing equipment for sessions and doing administrative tasks.
- Evaluate patient abilities
- Consult with occupational therapist to find the most effective activity or rehabilitation program
- Assist patients with therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
- Ensure patients are doing exercises correctly and encourage them to keep going
- Teach patients exercise and therapy programs to be done at home, including use of equipment
- Record patients’ progress
An entry-level occupational therapy aide role requires a high school diploma or equivalent and on-the-job training. Occupational therapy assistants must complete an associate degree from an accredited community college or technical school.
In addition to coursework in psychology, biology and pediatric health, OTAs must complete at least 16 weeks on hands-on clinical work. Occupational therapy assistants must also pass the NBCOT exam to reach Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) status. Continuing education classes are required to maintain that certification.
There are also many specialty certifications for OTAs, including programs that focus on patients with limited vision or eating and swallowing problems, such as Parkinson’s patients.
All states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants and many require a license. In addition, many employers require assistants and aides to be trained in CPR.
- Are compassionate and enjoy helping people
- Are adaptable and creative in coming up with patient plans, as no two patients will respond the same way to a specific therapy
- Are detail-oriented
- Have excellent interpersonal skills, especially with the elderly or children
- Have good dexterity
- Have the physical stamina to provide therapy while bending or stooping and to work on your feet for long stretches of time