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What is a Pediatric Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Gwen Davis-Barrios
Reviewed by Dr. Crystal Young
Apr 1, 2024

Occupational Therapy (OT) helps people of any age living with injuries and disabilities learn to perform daily activities. For children, daily activities mean learning and playing.

Pediatric Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs) help children with a wide range of disabilities, injuries, and physical and cognitive needs play and learn. The skills built through pediatric OT set children up for lifelong growth and help build self-sufficiency.

If you enjoy children and are patient, compassionate, and creative, a pediatric OT career could help you make a lasting difference. At Joyce University, our OTA program teaches childhood development and the specialized skills you’ll need in pediatric OT jobs.

What Do Pediatric Occupational Therapy Assistants Do?

Pediatric OTAs collaborate with other professionals to carry out treatment plans for injured and disabled children. OT for children supports learning and playing skills, and can include a wide variety of physical, cognitive, social, and creative exercises.

All of these exercises and strategies support children’s development and build skills for independence so they can better operate in a world that isn’t accommodating for them.

It’s never too early to support a child’s development. Pediatric OT is an early intervention that builds a foundation for long-term success with physical tasks, social situations, and other activities of daily living.

How do Pediatric OTAs Impact Children’s Lives?

Pediatric OTAs have a huge influence on children’s development. Through the help of pediatric OT, many children develop lifelong skills for self-care and independence, like hygiene, dressing themselves, cooking, and cleaning. Pediatric OTAs assist children in finding ways to succeed in education, helping them build effective communication and social skills.

Pediatric OTAs love seeing their work make a difference in a child’s life. Opportunities to contribute to a happier life draw many pediatric OTAs to the field. If you’re looking for an emotionally rewarding profession, you’re in the right place.

What Children Benefit from Pediatric OT?

Pediatric OT, like all OT, is always tailored to each individual’s needs. Children with the same diagnosis can have very diverse needs, and good pediatric OTAs will creatively build treatment plans. In Joyce University’s OTA program, you’ll learn what a day in the life of an OTA looks like, gaining the tools to work and effectively communicate with these young patients. Here are some general ways that pediatric OT can serve a variety of children.

Children on the autism spectrum and with ADHD

Neurodiverse children have widely varied needs, and pediatric OT can support many of them. Pediatric OTAs help kids with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD:

  • Manage sensory differences by using tools to help meet sensory needs
  • Communicate effectively
  • Navigate social situations
  • Build emotional regulation skills

Children with Down syndrome

Pediatric OT can help children with Down syndrome:

  • Learn age-appropriate, self-care activities like feeding and dressing themselves
  • Communicate effectively with speech therapists
  • Manage sensory differences and needs
  • Develop fine and gross motor skills
  • Build social skills

Children with cerebral palsy

Pediatric OT helps children with cerebral palsy:

Children with spinal cord injuries

Many children with spinal cord injuries have to relearn skills that came easily pre-injury. Pediatric OT gives these children and their families the tools to gain or regain independence.

Pediatric OTAs can help children with spinal cord injuries:

  • Adapt to mobility aids like wheelchairs, including learning to transfer in and out of the chair
  • Learn or relearn how to walk
  • Strengthen parts of the body affected by spinal cord damage
  • Build or rebuild balance
  • Develop skills for independence
  • Navigate new ways to play

Children with developmental delays or other disabilities

Children with a wide array of developmental delays or disabilities can benefit from pediatric OT. Pediatric OTAs mix and match treatments as appropriate, but may help children:

  • Learn adaptive technology
  • Practice educational skills like writing
  • Hone motor skills
  • Integrate in social situations
  • Manage sensory needs
  • Build age-appropriate self-care skills

How to Become a Pediatric Occupational Therapy Assistant

To become a pediatric OTA, you must:

1. Earn an OTA associate’s degree

2. Pass the NBCOT qualifying exam

3. Apply for and obtain state licensure

This associate-level education and training typically takes two years, but some fast-track programs can accelerate the process. At Joyce University, you can become a certified OTA in as little as 20 months (just five semesters) of mostly online classes.

Joyce’s OTA training is comprehensive, so you’ll take specialized courses on OT for every life stage, as well as psychosocial, physical, and psychological approaches to OT. During your final semester at Joyce, you’ll complete fieldwork for hands-on learning and take an NBCOT review course, which prepares students to pass the qualifying exam and obtain OTA certification.

Once you’re certified, you can begin applying for pediatric OTA jobs. At Joyce University, our faculty is available to help all students and alumni find great jobs.

What Skills & Techniques do Pediatric OTAs Use?

Being a great OTA for adults is one thing, but effectively treating children is a whole other game. Pediatric skills for OTAs can include:

  • Sensory integration therapy
  • Play-based therapy
  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Art and music therapy
  • Outdoor play and nature-based activities

Children of different ages benefit from different techniques. For example, early childhood OT with a toddler may use mostly play to build skills or strength. OTAs working with teens may still play but are likely to incorporate life and job skills.

Child-focused OT gives OTAs the opportunity to collaborate with other specialists, like art and music therapists and recreational therapists. These experiences make pediatric OT a varied and exciting field with lots of chances to keep learning.

How to Get Pediatric OTA Jobs?

At Joyce University, we encourage our students to take advantage of networking opportunities through volunteer programs, fieldwork, and networking events. Our career services office can also connect you with pediatric OTA jobs.

Pediatric OT is a growing field with a great job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 23% growth projection for OTA jobs in the next decade. This far outstrips the average job outlook, which means that pediatric OTAs have great potential for career advancement.

As the pediatric OT field grows, more diverse pediatric OTA jobs are hitting the market. These pediatric OTAs can work in schools, clinics, hospitals, summer camps, homes, speech and language centers, and more. As the field advances, more opportunities will arise.

FAQs About Pediatric OTAs

How is a pediatric OTA different from a pediatric OT?

Pediatric OTAs work alongside pediatric OTs. Pediatric OTAs report to pediatric OTs and support them in building treatment plans, performing therapeutic activities exercises, managing and maintaining equipment, communicating with families, tracking patient progress, and more.

What are common conditions that require pediatric OT?

Children with a diverse range of needs and abilities can benefit from pediatric OT. Pediatric OTAs frequently work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and other disabilities.

How much does a pediatric OTA make?

Factors like location, years of experience, and education impact your pay, but the average annual pediatric OTA salary is $67,531.

Where do pediatric OTAs get paid the most?

According to, the highest-paying areas for pediatric OTAs are Washington DC, California, New Jersey, Alaska, and Massachusetts.

As a pediatric OTA, you could help build the foundation for many happy and successful lives. If you are interested in a fulfilling career as an OTA, start your journey at Joyce today.

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