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What Is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?


OTAs teach clients the essential skills they need to use every day. Here’s more about who OTAs are and what they do.

Healthcare doesn’t just happen in hospitals or treatment centers. Clients often require the services of healthcare providers in their daily lives, helping them perform regular, everyday tasks. Oftentimes in those situations occupational therapy can allow clients to learn or regain the skills they need to interact with the world more smoothly and be as independent as possible. The regular implementation of occupational therapy comes from occupational therapy assistants, healthcare workers who are out in the field, improving client’s lives every single day.

Related resource: What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) deals with the everyday tasks and actions that occupy much of a person’s day, hence the name. OT provides care to clients with all sorts of needs. Some are born with disabilities, while others lose skills or motor functions due to events like strokes or accidents. Clients can have any number of physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments. OT works clients who have a wide range of diagnoses or conditions, teaching clients how to gain or regain the necessary skills and functions they need to function every day.

Clients are initially examined by an occupational therapist, who will prescribe a plan of treatment. The therapist will also check in on the client, monitoring his or her progress, and alter the treatment plan if necessary. However, the day-to-day implementation of that treatment plan is carried out by an occupational therapy assistant (OTA).

Related resource: 10 Reasons Occupational Therapy Assistants Love Their Work

What OTAs do

OTAs work directly with clients in a variety of settings, teaching them the skills they need to be self-sufficient. Those can include physical, sensory, or cognitive skills — essentially anything the client requires to eventually live independently. OTAs may help clients navigate their environment, improve their grip strength or fine motor skills, or participate in daily occupations that the client finds meaningful. OTAs assess client skills and progress, create custom treatment for the client, and provide training to family members and other healthcare providers. The list of their duties and skills is nearly endless.

And OTAs can work nearly anywhere. They’re found in hospitals, treatment centers, schools, skilled nursing and rehab centers, clients’ homes, and out in the community.

Related resource: 6 Great OTA Career Opportunities

How to become an OTA

OTAs need to have a degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program, and  they also have to be licensed. The training program can vary from college to college, but Ameritech’s program takes about twenty months to complete. After completing their courses, OTAs can look forward to being part of a growing industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for OTAs is $54,520, though many OTAs can earn more than that. The field also allows for advanced certifications, such as becoming a Certified Dementia Practitioner or CarFit Technician.

However, the most important step toward becoming (and thriving) as an OTA is a drive to improve the lives of others. OTAs make basic life skills possible for a variety of clients every single day, and a commitment to care, service, and excellence is key for anyone who wants to make this field their life.

If you’ve ever considered a career as an OTA, check out our e-book on seven facts about our OTA program, and be sure to join our community on Facebook.