Occupational Therapy

Exploring the Many Occupational Therapy Specialties

make a difference as an OTA

If you’re looking for a meaningful career, consider becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). OTAs work with occupational therapists to help patients develop, regain, or strengthen daily living skills. They work in a variety of settings and focus on a wide array of occupational therapy specialties.

As an OTA, your practice settings can include:

  • Homes
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Workplaces
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Therapists’ offices

Before we explore the six occupational therapy specialties, though, it’s important to understand how the occupational therapist (OT) and OTA roles differ, as well as the distinction between occupational therapy and physical therapy. The difference between an OT and an OTA is that OTs evaluate patients and create treatment plans, while OTAs put these plans into action.

People sometimes confuse occupational therapy (OT) with physical therapy (PT). The distinction is that OT practitioners help patients regain function and thus return to occupations that are important to them, while PTs focus on regaining motion, strength, and mobility.

The Six Occupational Therapy Specialties

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the organization setting standards in the field, has identified six key occupational therapy specialties. They are:

  1. Children and Youth
  2. Productive Aging
  3. Mental Health
  4. Rehabilitation and Disability
  5. Health and Wellness
  6. Work and Industry

Children and Youth

OTAs help young clients develop life skills, learn self-care activities, and build relationships. As an example, they can help kids at-risk for developing disabilities to improve their motor, cognitive, and sensory-processing skills.

OT with a pediatric client

Emerging practice areas in pediatric OT include childhood obesity, bullying, and teen driving.

Productive Aging

As the baby-boomer generation ages and life expectancy rises, there’s an increased focus on improving the quality of life for older Americans. OTAs help people live independently for as long as possible.

OTAs work to help older adults stay active, prevent falls, make their homes safe, remain mobile, and address any workplace issues. In addition, they can help people with dementia to deal with personality changes that affect relationships.

Emerging focus areas in productive aging OT include Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, low vision, and driving/mobility.

Mental Health

The World Health Organization has recognized mental illness as an increasing cause of disability worldwide. This has led to an increased focus on mental health within the practice of OT.

Occupational therapy assistant working with a young patient on a hands-focused exercise

OTAs include mental health as a part of every client assessment. They work to address any obstacles threatening a client’s mental health and help them learn coping and social skills, as well as develop daily routines.

Emerging practice areas within this specialty include depression, recovery and peer support, and veterans’ mental health.

Rehabilitation and Disability

The AOTA views rehabilitation as a core pillar of OT. Rehab deals with injuries or illnesses that affect a client’s ability to perform daily activities.

OTAs focusing on rehab and disability help patients recovering from strokes, brain injuries, cancer, chronic disease, and developmental disabilities, among other conditions.

Emerging areas of focus in this field include autism in adults, telehealth, and cancer.

Health and Wellness

There’s a growing emphasis on health and wellness in the US. This is due in part to factors such as increased life expectancy and the growing prevalence of obesity.

OTAs can assist clients with diabetes self-care, managing arthritis, sleeping healthily, and pain rehabilitation, for example. By promoting health and wellness, OTAs help increase patients’ participation in important life activities.

Emerging areas of practice in this field include managing chronic disease and preventing obesity.

Work and Industry

Essentially, OTAs improve the fit between the client, his or her job duties, and the environment.

They can work with clients to build or restore skills, easing a return to work after an illness or injury. They also put in place preventive steps to stave off illness and injury in the workplace.

Emerging areas of focus within work and industry include the aging workforce and new technology in the workplace.

Earn an OTA Degree Sooner

To become an OTA, you must graduate from an accredited OTA program and pass a certification exam through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

Through the Harcum College Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program near Phoenix, Arizona, you can earn an OTA degree in as few as 16 months.

Our Online OTA program comprises:

  • Online coursework focused on the fundamentals of occupational therapy
  • On-site skills labs for hands-on practice
  • Fieldwork, providing real-world experience working with patients

Online Coursework

Delivered through our intuitive e-learning platform, our OTA online courses form your fundamental understanding in the field.

Online courses allow you to study at your own pace and “attend” class whenever it’s convenient for you. Deadlines still apply; however, keep in mind that our professors are available and eager to answer any questions you might have.

Skills Labs

OTA skills labs at our learning site near Phoenix provide a safe environment in which to learn mental and physical treatments for patients of all ages, at every developmental stage.

OTA instructor with students in a skills lab

During these labs, you’ll use adaptive equipment to develop hands-on skills. And you’ll actively participate in role-play scenarios with your instructors and peers. These labs will build not only your skills, but also your confidence leading up to fieldwork.


OTA fieldwork helps you make the transition from student to practitioner. As an OTA student, you’ll complete two levels of fieldwork, for a total of 736 hours of real-world learning and application.

Level I Fieldwork enhances your knowledge through observing, shadowing, and talking with professionals. Level II Fieldwork develops your hands-on skills and provides you ample experience working with real patients.

Harcum OTA Program Objectives

At Harcum, we’re committed to your success as an OTA. Our faculty will regularly assess your knowledge and skills to ensure your comprehension of the material. In fact, we even have academic success coaches who are here to support you in your studies.

As we prepare you to become an OTA, it helps to understand our goals. Through our 16-month Online OTA program, you will learn how to:

  • Combine biological, physical, and psychosocial information to create a holistic view of the client and how illness or disability affects his or her daily life.
  • Develop patient-centered treatment plans within the scope of OTA practice.
  • Encourage patient engagement throughout his or her care and lifespan.
  • Communicate effectively to educate patients, caregivers, and other health professionals.
  • Promote ethical practice and appropriate conduct.

Are You Eligible?

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or are looking to change careers, we can help you earn an OTA degree in as few as 16 months.

However, to be eligible to enroll in our Online OTA program, you must:

  • Hold a high school diploma or passing GED® exam score.
  • Have a minimum GPA of 2.5.
  • Pass an English proficiency test with the specified score, if applicable.
  • Complete the core program requirements within the specified grade range.

Don’t Wait to Become an OTA

We offer three start dates per year — in January, May, and August — so you can begin your journey toward earning an OTA degree sooner. To learn more, reach out to an admission counselor today.

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