What Is the Job Description of a Pediatric Therapist?

Research what it takes to become a pediatric therapist. Learn about job responsibilities and the age groups of patients to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Child Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Pediatric Therapist Do?

There are two types of pediatric therapists - physical therapists and occupational therapists - who have expertise in working with children. Physical therapists work with children who have illnesses or injuries that cause pain or reduce their mobility. They teach children exercises and apply therapeutic techniques to provide pain relief and help them increase their range of motion. Occupational therapists focus their practice on helping children who have physical or developmental disabilities improve their independent living skills.

The following table provides information about educational requirements for physical and occupational therapists and job growth in these fields.

Physical TherapistOccupational Therapist
Degree RequiredDoctoral or professional degreeMaster's degree
Education Field of StudyAnatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physicsBiology, physiology
Licensure or CertificationLicensure required in every state; voluntary certification availableCertification/registration required in every state; additional voluntary certification available
Training RequiredContinuing education courses to keep license currentContinuing education courses to keep registration/certification current
Key SkillsCompassion, dexterity, interpersonal skills, and physical staminaCommunication, compassion, flexibility, and patience
Job Growth (2014-2024)34%*27%*
Median Salary (2015)$84,020*$80,150*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Pediatric Therapist?

Pediatric therapists are occupational or physical therapists who specialize in working with children. As a pediatric therapist, you would help your patients develop, improve or regain daily life skills and motor functions. You would generally work with children who are developmentally, mentally or physically disabled in some way, although the reasons for the disabilities would vary.

As a pediatric occupational therapist, you would assist your patients with the improvement or development of daily functions, such as dressing, grooming or interacting with other children. As a pediatric physical therapist, you would focus more on mobility issues that hinder functional activities, like walking or playing sports.

What Might My Primary Job Responsibilities Be?

Your primary responsibility as a pediatric therapist would be to evaluate each patient and develop a treatment plan that is unique to that patient's situation. Treatment might include physical exercises to improve gross or fine motor skills, computer programs to help with memory skills or adaptive equipment training to assist with daily tasks.

Recording your patients' activities and progress is another important part of your work as a pediatric therapist. Each time you work with a patient, you would need to record the day's activities and document any improvements in the patient's condition. This could be especially useful if you are consulting with the patient's doctors, teachers or family members.

What Age Group Might I Work With?

You might work with children of all ages as a pediatric therapist; however, your job responsibilities could differ depending on the age group of your patients. If you work with infants or young children, you might help them learn to walk or dress themselves. You could also work to develop their listening skills or build social skills, teaching them to share or play with others.

If you work with older children, you might collaborate with their teachers or school administrators to assist with development in the classroom. For instance, your patient might need adjustments made to the classroom environment, such as enhanced wheelchair access or adaptive equipment to help with writing. You could help your patients build strategies to increase their attention span in class and finish their work efficiently at home. You also might work with young students to develop handwriting and reading skills.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a physical or occupational therapist, you could choose to focus your practice on patients of all agents. Physical therapists may also specialize in a different area of the field, such as treating athletes who are injured. Alternatively, you could consider a different job in pediatric healthcare, such as a career as a pediatric nurse practitioner. These advanced practice nurses can work independently or in close conjunction with doctors to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses in children. The minimum educational requirement for this job is a master's degree. Outside of the medical field, you could work with children as an elementary school teacher. Some teachers work specifically with special education students who face physical and/or mental challenges. Teachers need to have a bachelor's degree and pass a state licensure exam to work in a public school.

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