An occupational therapy assistant works in conjunction with an occupational therapist to provide a range of rehabilitation services to patients. An occupational therapy assistant is there to teach and guide a patient in any and all skills he or she needs assistance with to engage successfully in daily life activities or return to employment. The goal is to equip the patient to live a more independent life. A friendly personality is helpful in becoming a success in this career.
The type of patients needing occupational therapy may include those with cognitive disabilities brought on by autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, or a stroke or head trauma. Other patients may be those with physical impairment due to advanced arthritis, a spinal cord injury, or other physical trauma, including those injured on the job. Some occupational therapy assistants work with patients suffering from mental illness that inhibit their ability to perform basic daily self-care tasks and maintain employment.
An occupational therapy assistant may work in a variety of settings including hospitals, public and private schools, clinics, nursing homes, patient homes, jails, day treatment facilities, and mental care institutions. The role of the occupational therapy assistant is to facilitate the patient's participation in rehabilitative services and exercises as prescribed by his or her doctor and designed by an occupational therapist. This can include teaching a stroke patient to feed and dress himself, providing autistic students and their teachers with mechanisms and strategies to cope with the sensory input issues associated with that disability, or teaching a patient and his or her at-home caregiver the proper way to move from a bed to a wheelchair. The occupational therapy assistant not only teaches, but also observes how well the patient is mastering each specific skill and then makes recommendations on whether additional training or different methods are necessary.
In the United States, Canada, Mexico, much of Europe, and Asia, a high school diploma is required to begin in this profession. Most occupational therapy assistants receive advanced training from either a community college or a vocational school accredited by either the state government or a professional organization. Most countries require candidates to pass a licensing test. In the United States and Canada, licensing tests vary slightly depending on which state or province a candidate tests in.