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Fully online diploma programs for occupational therapy aides aren't all that common, though a few exist. A related option is an online OT assistant (OTA) program, which is far more common. OTA associate degree programs can be found in a hybrid format, which require a mix of online courses, on-campus labs, and clinical rotations in professional healthcare facilities. Admission requirements include drug and TB tests, proof of immunizations and current CPR certification. Most programs can be completed in two years.
Before enrolling in a hybrid program, students should verify accreditation with the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). In fact, students must graduate from an ACOTE-accredited program; pass a national certification exam; and obtain state licensure before he or she may legally work as a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA). State licensure requirements vary by state.
Students admitted to an OTA associate degree program may have to complete prerequisites in anatomy and physiology, math and English composition. Core classes cover theoretical topics in therapy, medicine and treatment. The undergrads also learn how the occupational therapy profession operates as a whole. Courses may include the following:
Occupational Performance for Newborns to Adolescents
This course examines the physical and physiological development of humans from birth through their teens. Students learn to recognize problems and develop adaptive strategies.
Occupational Interventions for Newborns to Adolescents
Building on the previous class, this course provides an in-depth exploration of the conditions for which children are most often sent to occupational therapy. Students learn observation and assessment techniques, as well as how to teach patients exercises and adaptations.
Occupational Therapy for Adults
The fundamentals of adult biomechanics are presented here. Emphasis is placed on issues that negatively influence the mobility of adults, including aging, injuries, disease and work activities.
Practicing Therapeutic Interventions
This course provides an overview of the therapeutic process, including best practices. The organizational structure and division of labor in OT clinics and physician offices is also discussed.
Ethics in Occupational Therapy
Case study analysis is used as a framework to examine professional ethics, liability issues and clinical decisions. Participants also learn about the role of local and national professional organizations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 40% increase in the number of jobs for OT assistants and aides during the 2014-2024 decade, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. In addition, the BLS reported that as of May 2015, OT assistants working in the U.S. earned a median salary of $57,870, while OT aides took home a median of $27,800.
Most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed, and some call for continuing education. Requirements can be found through each state's department of licensing. Generally, COTAs are encouraged to maintain their national certification. The credential is renewable every three years through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). OT aides aren't eligible for NBCOT certification, nor is a state license required of them.
Fully online diploma programs for occupational therapy aides are only offered at a handful of schools. Associate's programs for occupational therapy assistants are more common, and they're typically available in a hybrid format. Associate's programs can prepare students for professional licensure.