occupational therapy assistant vs. aide

Occupational Therapy Aide vs. Assistant: What’s the Difference?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment of occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapy aides is projected to grow twenty-five percent by 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

This equates to about 9,300 job openings yearly out of the need to replace workers transferring to different occupations or retiring from the labor force.

While both occupations seek to respond to the health needs of patients of all ages, there are also many differences between occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapy aides.

Let’s examine these differences, including job duties and responsibilities, the requirements to fulfill these occupations, and their expected salaries.

What is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Under the supervision of an occupational therapist, licensed occupational therapy assistants (OTA) help and support patients of all ages in the rehabilitation stage of their recovery program.

Their patients are often recovering from injuries, children with developmental challenges, and elderly patients requiring assistance in gaining their independence and ability to function in their daily routines.

OT assistants provide patients’ therapy and progress notes and create reports for their supervising occupational therapist.

What Do Occupational Therapy Assistants Do?

Occupational therapy assistants demonstrate and assist patients with therapeutic exercises as part of the treatment plan formulated and designed by an occupational therapist. This can range from stretches to showing patients how to use special equipment, like demonstrating how a patient with Parkinson’s can utilize tools to eat more easily.

Occupational therapy assistants also:

  • Lead children with developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization.
  • Encourage patients to complete activities and tasks to overcome limitations.
  • Help patients gain more confidence and adapt to a disability or permanent injury.
  • Answer patients’ questions, note patients’ progress, and perform other administrative tasks.

Requirements for Occupational Therapy Assistants

To become a certified and licensed occupational therapy assistant, candidates need an associate degree from an accredited Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program.


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Generally, these programs prepare candidates to obtain their Occupational Therapy Assistant Certification (COTA) by offering courses in psychology, biology, and pediatric health and weeks of hands-on experience in the field. Exams are taken after graduation and administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

In addition to certification, depending on the state, candidates may be required to obtain a license to practice occupational therapy, and this license is based on the results of the certification exam. Plus, occupational therapy assistants must keep their skills sharp by completing continuing education courses regularly to maintain certification and licensure.

How Much Do Occupational Therapy Assistants Make?

The median annual salary for occupational therapy assistants is $61,730, with the highest ten percent earning more than $80,210.

The highest earners work in home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, and hospitals, while lower yearly salaries are found in state, local, and private educational service facilities. Most occupational therapy assistants work full time and may work during evenings and weekends depending on their workplace and patients’ schedule.

What is an Occupational Therapy Aide?

Occupational therapy aides also help patients develop, recover, improve, and maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.

However, instead of being directly involved in a patient’s therapy, they provide support services to the occupational therapist and their assistant. OT Aides contribute to the healthcare side of occupational therapy work through their administrative role.

What Does an Occupational Therapy Aide Do?

Whereas occupational therapy assistants monitor activities to help patients perform exercises correctly, occupational therapy aides prepare materials, assemble and put away the equipment used during treatment, and clean the treatment area.

Additional supportive duties include:

  • Helping move patients to and from treatment areas.
  • Helping patients with billing and insurance forms.
  • Performing clerical and administrative tasks like scheduling appointments, answering telephone calls, and monitoring inventory levels.

Requirements for Occupational Therapy Aides

Unlike occupational therapy assistants, whose work is much more hands-on and specialized, occupational therapy aides typically only need a high school diploma or equivalent.

Aides often receive their training on the job under the supervision of more experienced assistants or aides. This training can last several days or weeks, depending on the facility, and covers various topics, such as setting up therapy equipment and infection control procedures.

While previous work experience in the healthcare industry is helpful, there is no eligible certification or licensure for occupational therapy aides, and no occupational therapy aide programs are accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (AOTA’s ACOTE).

Additionally, occupational therapy aide certification is not regulated by state law.

How Much Do Occupational Therapy Aides Make?

Occupational therapy aides can also work full-time, including evenings and weekends, depending on their place of employment.

The median annual salary for OT aides is $33,560, with the highest ten percent earning more than $61,960. Median annual wages range from $38,220 in nursing care facilities to $28,910 in offices of other health practitioners.

While both occupations share a positive job outlook and growth rate, aides make up a much smaller amount in the occupational therapy field, meaning there are more job opportunities for assistants than aides.

Occupational therapy is an extremely valuable service, treating children and young adults with developmental disabilities and older adults experiencing conditions and ailments like arthritis and strokes. But occupational therapists cannot treat patients alone. They rely on trained and dedicated support from occupational therapy assistants and aides.

While jobs as an OT assistant and aide offer fulfillment and career satisfaction through community service, a career as an occupational therapist assistant provides hands-on experience supervising clients.

And it’s easy to get started. Apply for an Occupational Therapy Assistant program like the one at Goodwin University, where traditional classroom learning pairs seamlessly with practical hands-on experience with occupational therapy professionals. All of which prepare students for real-world success long after graduation.

Enrollment is hassle-free and financial aid is available. Plus, with our comprehensive support services, we ensure students are never alone in college or their careers.

Apply today or contact us for more information!