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How to Become a Developmental Therapist

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Pediatricians often refer children who have delays in cognitive development, speech delays or communication disorders, vision or hearing impairments, motor skills deficits or behavioral problems to developmental therapists for evaluation. Developmental therapists also work with children who have autism spectrum disorders, poor social skills, decreased attention span or learning disabilities. These professionals assess a child’s development, identify problem areas and then implement therapeutic interventions to help the child reach developmental goals.

Basic Education Requirements

Degrees that typically qualify an individual for a career as a developmental therapist include an undergraduate degree or higher in early childhood education, early childhood special education, early intervention, elementary education or special education. Some developmental therapists hold degrees in developmental psychology, child development (both typical and atypical) and social work, as well as degrees that prepare you to work with the deaf and hard of hearing, or blind or partially sighted. Holding a degree in general psychology does not qualify a person to work as a developmental therapist. National certification in art, music, recreation or other rehabilitative therapy can also qualify an individual for a developmental therapist credential.

Continuing Education Requirements

To provide services to children, a practicing developmental therapist must show proof documenting the completion of continuing education unit credits in content areas that include the development of young children, assessment of young children with special needs, working with families of young children with disabilities, and intervention strategies for young children with special needs. The Department of Human Services in the state where a developmental therapist provides services must approve all educational activities. Individuals can present proof in the form of college transcripts or documentation from approved training sessions.

Training in Evaluation and Assessment

Therapeutic programs looking to hire developmental therapists typically require that applicants gain practical experience by working a specified number of hours with young children in an educational environment or similar program. Individuals seeking to become developmental therapists must be trained in the use of a formal assessment tool to perform comprehensive evaluations and assessments. A number of approved global evaluations and assessments are available, including Infant Development Inventory, Infant Toddler Developmental Assessment, Child Developmental Inventory, Mullen Scales of Early Learning, and Developmental Scales for Young Handicapped Children. When applying for a developmental therapy credential, you must provide certificates of completion from the training programs or a course syllabus that includes the name of the assessment tool.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

The process of obtaining licensing to be a certified developmental therapist varies by state. Certification usually requires that you have a current teaching license and be certified by your state’s Department of Education in special education or as a special education instructional specialist in early childhood education. Organizations such as pediatric hospitals, early intervention programs and state-run social service agencies certified to provide developmental therapy services often offer certification to qualified individuals who want to work as a developmental therapist.

Employment Opportunities

While the number of positions for child education specialists, including developmental therapists, is expected to grow in coming years, candidates with specialized training or advanced education above a bachelor’s degree have access to more career opportunities. Developmental therapists who have additional education or more years of experience have higher earnings potential. The average annual salary for pediatric developmental therapists in the U.S. is $83,000 as of June 2014, according to the Indeed job site. Salaries may be lower or higher than the national average, depending upon where you live.


Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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