What is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 09, 2023
4 min read

Occupational therapy is treatment to help people take part in the things that they want to do. 

Generally, if you need occupational therapy, you would see an occupational therapist. They are the person who evaluates you and creates a customized treatment plan. An occupational therapy assistant helps the occupational therapist. They help put your treatment plan into action and help you tackle daily activities that may be challenging due to injuries, illnesses, or disabilities. 

Occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists are a team that works together to ensure the best possible outcome for the people they see. An occupational therapy typically doesn’t perform evaluations or create treatment plans, but they guide you through exercises to overcome your challenges. They can make adjustments to your plan to better fit your specific needs.

Occupational therapy serves many needs. As such, occupational therapy assistants work in many places. Some of the most common places they work in include:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Occupational therapy offices
  • Skilled nursing homes
  • Schools
  • Homes

Occupational therapy assistants may do work including:

  • Work with children to improve cognitive and motor skills as well as sensory processing
  • Help people with Down’s syndrome learn self-care skills to gain independence
  • Assist people with dementia
  • Help people with arthritis manage their inflammation and identify things such as orthotic devices that provide relief from pain
  • Help people to overcome physical challenges
  • Work with people who have experienced a work-related injury to regain their strength and abilities by walking them through exercises and reconditioning

Occupational therapy assistants need to receive a 2-year associate’s degree from an American Occupational Therapy Association-accredited school.

They may take classes in mental health and therapeutic interventions, and they also must do fieldwork.

Once the person completes their classes, they then need to:

  • Pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.
  • Get a license to practice in their state.

An occupational therapy assistant can help adults with many different conditions, including:

They may also work with children who have:

Treatment plans vary from one person to the next. An occupational therapy assistant will help implement your treatment plan and make adjustments as they see necessary. They work with the occupational therapist to ensure that you get the best care possible. 

Reasons why you might see an occupational therapist and occupational therapy assistant include:

You’re Concerned About Your Child’s Development

Occupational therapy assistants work with young children to improve their fine and gross motor skills so that they can perform regular activities such as climbing stairs, playing catch, hopping, writing, and more. They can also help children who aren’t meeting developmental milestones, such as crawling and walking.   

Your Child Has ADHD

If your child has ADHD, they may have trouble with tasks such as staying focused and completing tasks. An occupational therapy assistant works with them to improve their attention, time management, impulse, and social skills.  

You’re Experiencing Chronic Pain

Chronic pain, such as an old injury or arthritis, can make it difficult to perform daily living activities. An occupational therapy assistant guides you through various exercises to improve your comfort and ability to do different tasks.

You Were Involved in an Accident

Accidents at home or work can leave you in a lot of pain. They can also make it difficult to perform normal daily living and work activities. With the help of an occupational therapy assistant, you can regain strength, range of motion, and the ability to perform regular tasks. 

You’re Developing Memory Problems

Occupational therapy assistants work with people who are having memory problems, including those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. They help you to retain and improve your cognitive skills and make it easier for you to manage your life.

During your first visit to the occupational therapy office, you’ll have an evaluation. An occupational therapist and occupational therapy assistant will go over your general information, such as:

  • Medical history
  • The reason for your visit
  • Your diagnosis
  • Your symptoms

They may also check: 

  • Your pain level
  • Vitals 
  • Range of motion
  • Muscle tests
  • Sensation
  • Coordination
  • Sensory processing

The occupational therapist will also ask you about your goals and will create a personalized treatment plan. It will include various exercises to help you achieve your goals and improve your abilities to perform regular daily activities. During your appointments, your occupational therapy assistant will help guide you through your exercises and make adjustments to your plan as necessary.