Personnel Improvement Center
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Occupational Therapist

The profession of occupational therapy is concerned with a person's ability to participate in desired daily life activities or "occupations." In the schools, occupational therapists use their unique expertise to help all children to be prepared for and perform important learning and school-related activities and to fulfill their role as students. In this setting, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants support academic and nonacademic outcomes including social skills, math, reading, writing, recess, participating in sports, self-help skills, prevocational/vocational participation and more, for children with and without disabilities, 3 to 21 years of age. They are particularly skilled in facilitating access to curricular and extra-curricular activities for all students through support, design planning, and other methods. They work collaboratively with the entire educational team including parents, specialized instructional support personnel, and caregivers in regards to meeting the educational needs of all students with diverse learning styles.
Nature of Work:
  • Observe student engagement in activity and provide strategies to facilitate all students' full participation.
  • Reduce barriers that limit student access, participation, or progress during naturally occurring activities and routines within the school environment.
  • Utilize assistive technology to support student success.
  • Support the needs of students with significant challenges, when helping to determine methods for alternative assessment to promote academic achievement, for example.
  • Collaborate with the educational team to provide service to the child and on behalf of the child to promote functional, developmental, and academic performance.
  • Identify educationally relevant goals related to student outcomes and annual yearly progress.
  • Utilize evidence to the extent practical when choosing specific school-based strategies and interventions.

Education Required OTR:

A post baccalaureate degree is the current minimum requirement to become an occupational therapist. Approximately 140 institutions offer masters degree level programs and 5 offer doctoral degree level programs. All the programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, and all programs include a supervised clinical internship for at least 24 weeks full-time. Most states and the District of Columbia require occupational therapists to obtain a license to practice. Graduates of accredited occupational therapy programs are eligible to sit for the certification examination administered by the National Board for the Certification of Occupational Therapy. Candidates who pass the exam become registered occupational therapists and may use the letters OTR after their name as long as they remain current with certification renewal requirements.

Education Required OTA:

Approximately 128 institutions offer Occupational Therapy Assistant education programs. The majority of these programs are offered at the associate degree level. All of the programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, and all programs include a supervised clinical internship for at least 16 weeks full-time. Most states and the District of Columbia require occupational therapy assistants to obtain a license to practice. Graduates of accredited occupational therapy assistant programs are eligible to sit for the certification examination administered by the National Board for the Certification of Occupational Therapy. Candidates who pass the exam become certified occupational therapy assistants and may use the letters COTA after their name, as long as they remain current with their certification renewal requirements.

Coursework:

College students enrolled in occupational therapy classes typically study anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, neurology, psychology, human growth and development, occupational therapy theory and treatment techniques, and the impact of disability on daily life and work skills.

Certificate Required:

Occupational therapy is regulated in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. State regulations vary from licensure to title protection or trademark law. Currently, all states have licensure for OTs and OTAs with the exception of the following States: Registration is required for OTs in Hawaii and Michigan and for OTAs in Michigan. Certification is required for OTAs in California, Indiana, and New York. Title Protection is required for OTs in Colorado and OTAs in Virginia. In addition, some State Departments of Education may have additional requirements for Occupational Therapists.

Personal Qualities:

  • Flexibility
  • Team player
  • Enjoyment in helping students in an educational setting
  • Strong problem solving skills
  • Interest in policy, practice, and research within the field of occupational therapy in order to adhere to best practice models

Job Outlook and Advancement:

The U. S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that employment of occupational therapy practitioners is expected to increase by at least 27% and much faster than the average for all occupations through the next decade.

How to Prepare for a Career:

  • Arrange to observe or volunteer in order to learn more about occupational therapy
  • Contact a career guidance center
  • Visit the American Occupational Therapy Association website, www.aota.org and click on "Student" tab

Resource Information:

American Occupational Therapy Association
4720 Montgomery Lane
PO Box 31220
Bethesda, Maryland 20824-1220
301-652-2682

National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy


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The National Center to Improve the Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Personnel for Children with Disabilities (Personnel Improvement Center). A Cooperative Agreement, H325C080001, between the US Department of Education and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Project Officer: Maryann McDermott
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