occupational-therapy-specialties

20 Occupational Therapy Specialties to Advance Your Career

When you get your first job as a licensed occupational therapy practitioner, you usually aren’t thinking about additional occupational therapy specialties right off the bat. Your primary focus is just trying to keep your head above water.

You are thrown into unfamiliar territory, and as a result you will likely spend the first few years of your career figuring out the basics and what your interests are.

For those who have spent a lot of time in a single setting like inpatient rehab, you may have grown complacent and are wondering what step to take next and how to boost your credentials.

The following is a list of 20 common occupational therapy specialties and certifications that OT practitioners can obtain. Some may take you by surprise, and some you might already be qualified for.

A quick note: Please be sure to check the linked references for the most up-to-date requirements as these can change over time.

20 Occupational Therapy Specialties to Advance Your Career

1. Gerontology (BCG)

Specialties 1-3 are all provided by AOTA’s Advanced Certification via an application process. The below links will have the most up-to-date information on requirements.

Board Certification in Gerontology

The eligibility requirements for the Gerontology certification are as follows:

  • Completed application form and fee
  • Evidence via portfolio/examples of completed work
  • Professional degree in Occupational Therapy
  • Certified or licensed by and in good standing with an AOTA-recognized credentialing or regulatory body
  • Minimum of 3 years practicing as an OT
  • Minimum of 3,000 hours in any capacity of gerontology
  • Minimum of 500 hours delivering OT services in gerontology within the past 5 years
  • Verification of employment

2. Pediatrics (BCP)

ot-pediatrics

Board Certification in Pediatrics

Eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Completed application form and fee
  • Evidence via portfolio/examples of completed work
  • Professional degree in OT
  • Certified or licensed by and in good standing with an AOTA-recognized credentialing or regulatory body
  • Minimum of 3 years practicing as an OT
  • Minimum of 3,000 hours in any capacity of pediatrics
  • Minimum of 500 hours delivering OT services in pediatrics within the past 5 years

3. Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)

Board Certification in Physical Rehabilitation

Eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Completed application form and fee
  • Evidence via portfolio/examples of completed work
  • Professional degree in OT
  • Certified or licensed by and in good standing with an AOTA-recognized credentialing or regulatory body
  • Minimum of 3 years practicing as an OT
  • Minimum of 3,000 hours in any capacity of physical rehabilitation
  • Minimum of 500 hours delivering OT services in physical rehabilitation within the past 5 years
  • Verification of employment
  • Passing of the Board Certification Physical Rehab exam (starting July 2023)

4. Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist: CDRS®

The Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist: CDRS® is offered by the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists. AOTA no longer offers a certification in this.

Eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Completed application form and fee
  • Be a healthcare practitioner (including OT) with 832 hours of direct, hands-on experience providing driver rehabilitation services
  • Completion of a formal certification exam
  • Attestation to adhering to ADED’s code of ethics
  • Maintain 30 hours of required continuing education every three years

5. SOS Feeding Certification

If you are looking for a pediatric feeding certificate, the SOS Approach to Feeding offers their own certification to add to your toolkit, as AOTA has also phased out their own feeding certification.

The SOS Approach to Feeding is targeted towards “assessing and treating children with feeding difficulties of all ages, with a special focus on children from 6 months to 7 years old.”

Eligibility requirements:

  • Complete the SOS Approach to Feeding 12-week live/interactive online course
  • Complete the written exam at the end of the course

6. Mental Health First Aid Certification

While AOTA has also phased out their Board Certification in Mental Health (BCMH), there are other mental health certifications you can add to your toolkit.

The Mental Health First Aid course, from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, will be a valuable asset to any OT practitioner, in any setting, not just mental health OTs.

Mental Health First Aid Certification Course

7. Certified Low Vision Therapist (CLVT®)

ot-low-vision

The Certified Low Vision Therapist (CLVT®) certification is offered by the ACVREP. They also offer certifications in vision rehabilitation therapy and assistive technology.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Completed application form and fee
  • Have at least a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy
  • Successful completion of 350 hours of low vision experience under an MD or OD practicing in low vision
  • Pass the certification examination

8. Certified Autism Specialist

The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education offers two options to become a Certified Autism Specialist. You can find more information about the two tracks here.

Eligibility requirements :

  • Have either a Master’s Degree & 2 years of experience in the field or a Bachelor’s degree & 10 years of experience working with autism
  • Pay the required registry free
  • Have completed 14 autism-related CE hours
  • Pass the online Autism Competency Exam

9. Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)

Eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Work as an occupational therapist or physical therapist for three years
  • 4,000 hours of direct hand therapy practice experience (obtained in any country). Upcoming and projected hours are not accepted prior to the application deadline.
  • Must pass the Certified Hand Therapist exam

Read more about how to become a Certified Hand Therapist here.

10. Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT)

Norton School of Lymphadema Therapy

The Brennan School of Innovative Lymphatic Studies

Eligibility requirements for the Norton School are as follows:

  • Licensed occupational therapist
  • The course is 135 hours long divided into classroom instruction and home study
  • The current cost for the entire Norton course is $3,200

11. Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)

ATP Exam Eligibility Requirements

Eligibility requirements include:

  • A variety of educational backgrounds are accepted, ranging from high school diploma to Master’s degree or higher
  • Total hours of assistive tech-related training will depend on the degree received (10, 20, or 30 hours)
  • Half of training hours need to be met at IACET or University approved continuing education units; the other half may be fulfilled by other Continuing Education Credits or documented contact hours
  • Training hours must be completed in same time frame as your work experience

12. Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)

ot-seating-mobility

SMS Exam Eligibility Requirements

Eligibility requirements include:

  • You have already obtained the above ATP certification
  • 1,000 hours or more in seating and mobility-related service with consumers at any time in your professional experience
  • Two types of professional activities completed in the last 5 years: Continuing education, client service delivery, advocacy, mentoring, presentation, publication, leadership

13. Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist (CSRS)

Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Licensed occupational or physical therapist
  • Complete the educational program, which includes four 8-hour seminars costing a total of $900 for all four courses
  • Pass the exam (the current cost of the exam is $150)

14. Neuro-Developmental Treatment Certification (C/NDT)

Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Completion of at least one of the following courses:
    • Course in the Management of Adults with Stroke and Brain Injury
    • NDT/Bobath Certificate Course in the Management & Treatment of Children with Cerebral Palsy and Other Neuromotor Disorders
  • Hold an active NDTA membership.

Apply for the certification within 12 months of successful course completion (with a $150 application fee if submitted after 30 days of the course end date).

15. Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)

Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS)

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Completion of the following courses:
    • Marketing and Communicating with the Aging in Place Client (CAPS I)
    • Design Concepts for Livable Homes and Aging in Place (CAPS II)
    • Details and Solutions for Livable Homes and Aging in Place (CAPS III)
  • Completion of online CAPS graduation application
  • Signed copy of CAPS code of ethics pledge
  • Submit application fee 

16. Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist

Certified AHCB Hippotherapy Specialist

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Licensed or certified OT, PT, SLP, or certified assistant
  • One year of full-time experience in practice
  • Taking AHA Level I and II courses
  • A minimum of 25 hours of one-on-one direct treatment in clinical practice using hippotherapy following Level II course
  • Experience/comfort working with horses

17. Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIST)

ot-mental-health

Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)

Eligibility requirements include:

  • 500 hours of currently verifiable direct contact experience with an individual or individuals with brain injury (through paid employment or academic internship; volunteer work does not count)
  • Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • The class currently costs $325

18. Saebo Certified Therapist

Not familiar with Saebo? You can read more about Saebo on their website and can find the Saebo Certification course list here.

Saebo eligibility requirements include:

  • Licensed occupational or physical therapist or COTA/PTA
  • Have experience with fabricating and fitting splints/orthotics
  • Have experience with evaluation and treatment of neurological patients
  • Currently have an active caseload consisting of neurological patients that are appropriate for the Saebo program

19. Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Meet the discipline requirement (which includes licensed occupational therapists)
  • Obtain a minimum of 2 years professional practice experience after meeting the discipline requirement
  • Obtain 1,000 hours providing diabetes care and education within 4 years of applying
  • Take 15 hours of continuing education applicable to diabetes prior to taking the CDCES exam
  • Pass the CDCES exam

20. DIRFloortime® Certification

The DIR® (Developmental, Individual-differences, and Relationship-based model) offers multiple certificates for their DIRFloortime® program, which is a therapeutic approach tailored to “children with educational, social-emotional, mental health, and/or developmental challenges.”

The DIRFloortime® certificates include the following: DIRFloortime® Basic Certificate Course and the DIRFloortime® Certificate of Proficiency Course, the DIRFloortime® Advanced Certificate Course and the
DIRFloortime® Expert Certificate Course.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Just register and take the live scheduled certification courses. Courses are 14 weeks long. 
  • Current cost: $849 for professionals

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We hope this list gave you a few ideas to get started on increasing your credentials!

What other occupational therapy specialties or certifications would you add to this list? Please share in the comments below!

This post co-authored by Meredith Chandler, OTR/L and Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L. It was originally published on May 11, 2018 and last updated on June 4, 2023. 

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15 comments

  • Kathleen Lisson July 14, 2018   Reply →

    Klose training is also an excellent resource for Certified Lymphedema Therapist training.

  • Tameka W. June 20, 2019   Reply →

    Are there any certifications that I can earn while still in school to be an Occupational therapy assistant?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L June 20, 2019   Reply →

      The majority of the certifications I’ve seen are for practitioners, but if anyone knows of any that can be done while in school, please feel free to share!

    • Adrian wirtner July 15, 2019   Reply →

      As an OTA student you can take a PAMS (Physical Agent Modalities) certification! I am in the process of finishing my OTA degree and will be completing the hands-on portion for the certification within the upcoming weeks. I recommend taking the course during/close to your level II fieldwork, though. It makes it easier to obtain your hands-on hours.

  • Steve W July 22, 2019   Reply →

    Anyone know of a Cardio-Pulmonary Rehab Specialist certification for OT’s?

  • Christie McElduff October 4, 2019   Reply →

    I am interested in a few of the certifications you listed. I have been working in nursing homes for 8 years, but I haven’t kept track of how many hours I’ve done for the gerontology cert. So do I need to start keeping track of hours now?

    Also, I would add LSVT-Big and pelvic floor (PRPC) to the list of certs.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L October 4, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Christie, thanks for your suggestions! To answer your question, I’m not sure about how AOTA accepts the hours if they haven’t been formally tracked, but here is the email for the gerontology cert that you can ask to clarify: basc@aota.org

  • Stephanie Wright, OT August 4, 2020   Reply →

    I am interested in if there is a Hand and Upper Extremity Manual Certification that is recognized by AOTA and gives credentials to your name?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L August 6, 2020   Reply →

      Aside from the Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) certification I’m unaware of any other manual certification out there, but would love to hear from any OTs that might know of any other options!

    • Dee Athnos, OTD, OTR/L August 27, 2020   Reply →

      You could check this out for COMT or CAMM:

      https://iaom-us.com/certification/

  • Nancy March 13, 2021   Reply →

    Is the NDT certification open to OTA ?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L March 14, 2021   Reply →

      Hi Nancy, I couldn’t find any specific information on the NDT site that includes or excludes COTAs, so I would recommend reaching out to them directly at info@ndta.org for that answer.

  • Danielle DeBowsky February 9, 2022   Reply →

    Does anyone know if there are any certifications in amputee? Also interested in the certification in physical rehabilitation but seems the course is still being developed? anyone know any updates?

  • Olivia Peralta May 13, 2024   Reply →

    Is there a way for OTs to become more competent or pursue certification in dyslexia? I see many children in my clinic behind on reading skills, but I don’t know how to provide skilled targeted intervention for it. I truly think functional literacy has a place in this profession, as it is an integral part of so many occupations, and so many children are falling behind terribly in literacy skills, not to mention a significant portion of the population reads below an 8th grade level.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L May 13, 2024   Reply →

      I do agree that reading is such an important occupation to be addressed! As an adult-based OT I’ll have to do some digging to see what is out there for OTs working with kids. I’ll also ask my reading recovery mother-in-law and see if she can brainstorm with the OT at her school. If anyone else knows of anything, please reply here.

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