If you've always dreamed of working with special needs children, a career in occupational therapy will give you the chance to make those dreams a reality. Pediatric occupational therapists help children with a wide variety of disabilities gain independence and life skills through everyday activities. CNN Money named occupational therapy one of the 10 highest-paying jobs for women, so this career comes with both financial and emotional perks. Before getting started, you'll have to meet some basic requirements.
Required Education and Training
Your path to becoming a pediatric occupational therapist will begin in a bachelor's degree program. In order to meet admission requirements for occupational therapy graduate programs, select a major that includes courses in psychology, biology and physiology. For example, major in psychology, rehabilitation science or exercise science. Once you've earned your bachelor's degree, you'll need to earn at least a master's degree in occupational therapy. Master's programs take roughly 2 years to complete and include both classroom instruction and fieldwork opportunities, allowing you to receive a well-rounded education with plenty of hands-on experience. While completing fieldwork, you'll work directly with patients while under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist. You can supplement your education by volunteering with special needs children while attending school.
Necessary Skills and Personality Traits
To become a successful occupational therapist, it's essential that you have a compassionate personality and that you're sympathetic to your patients' struggles. Everyday tasks that are easy for you are often extremely difficult for special needs children, so patience is a must. It's important that you're able to listen to your patients' concerns and feelings regarding treatment and capable of clearly explaining activities, so strong communication skills are essential.
Mandatory Licensure and Voluntary Certification
All 50 states require occupational therapists to become licensed, so you'll need to get one as soon as you finish school. Licensure requirements vary from one state to another, but candidates are usually required to show proof of their degrees and pass an examination. Most states require aspiring occupational therapists to take the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists exam to become licensed. Since you want to concentrate your work on special needs children, you'll want to pursue voluntary board certification in pediatrics from the American Occupational Therapy Association. To earn certification, submit a portfolio documenting your work with special needs children, a self-assessment and a professional development plan to AOTA for peer review.
Career Outlook for Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapy is a growing profession. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that employment opportunities for occupational therapists would grow 33 percent between 2010 and 2020 -- much faster than average. While employment opportunities are highest for occupational therapists who work with the elderly, there's still plenty of work to be found with children. According to the Children's Hospital of Central California, pediatric occupational therapists can find work in both inpatient and outpatient settings.