How Can I Become a Pediatric Occupational Therapist?

Research what it takes to become a pediatric occupational therapist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Occupational Therapy Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist?

Pediatric occupational therapists are occupational therapists that work with children. The children they work with may have a disability, or may have been affected by illness or injury. Occupational therapists assess patients and develop treatment plans to help the patient develop or recover their ability to perform basic skills; pediatric occupational therapists specifically perform these tasks with children.

Pediatric occupational therapists may work with a child who has had the use of their arm or leg affected by an accident, or may work with children with disabilities who have some challenges with fine motor skill functions. In addition to completing the required training to be an occupational therapist, pediatric occupational therapists need to be good at working with children so that they can effectively assess them and work with them through treatment.

Degree Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Occupational therapy
Key Responsibilities Develop plan to help children perform daily activities; teach skills and evaluate child's progress; work with parents to implement treatment plan
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure is required; board certification in pediatrics is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 27% for all occupational therapists*
Median Salary (2015) $82,352 for all occupational therapists**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Does a Pediatric Occupational Therapist Do?

In this profession, you would utilize physical and mental exercises to improve patients' motor skills, reasoning capabilities, memory retention, physical stamina, dexterity and visual acuity. You also might teach them basic self-care skills, such as bathing, dressing and self-feeding.

What Kind of Education Do I Need?

Generally, occupational therapists must have at least a master's degree. Before obtaining a master's degree, you must complete a bachelor's degree program, which typically takes four years. Although there is no specific major requirement, you may consider a pre-occupational therapy program. Such programs can give you an introduction to essential topics related to the field, such as anatomy, physiology, biology and psychology.

At the graduate level, you can obtain a Master of Science or Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy. Some programs allow for specialization in a certain area, such as pediatrics. Programs generally last two years and combine coursework with extensive clinical experience in a professional setting. As an occupational therapy graduate student, you might study various methods of physical and mental rehabilitative care, such as hand rehabilitation, sensory integration, motor control and therapeutic communication.

How Do I Get Licensed and Certified?

Although you should check with your state board for specific requirements, all occupational therapists must pass the certification examination offered by the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy. This results in the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) credential.

Additionally, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers voluntary board certification in pediatrics, as well as various specialty certifications in areas like feeding, eating and swallowing. Board certification is often viewed as a highly desirable professional credential.

How Much Can I Expect To Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational therapists in general are expected to experience 27% growth in jobs between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The 2015 median salary for occupational therapists was $82,352, according to Salary.com. The top ten percent earned an average of over $96,405, while the bottom ten percent earned under $69,134.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists are both medical professionals who work with patients to help them improve their skills. Speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists assess patients, develop treatment plans, and then oversee the implementation of that treatment plan in order to help their patients learn or relearn skills. Speech-language pathologists work with individuals with speech issues or swallowing problems to help them build muscle strength in the muscles that are used for swallowing or develop the ability to enunciate words and sounds properly. A master's degree is required to become a speech-language pathologist.

Athletic trainers focus on helping athletes regain abilities affected by injury, similar to the work of occupational therapists, but are only required to hold a bachelor's degree. Their focus is on preventing or diagnosing and treating injuries in athletes. In the event of an injury to the muscle or bone of an athlete they may work with the athlete to help them regain the use of that muscle or build strength in the bone.

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