Physical Therapist Assistant with young patient using bands

How to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant

Learn About Requirements, Certifications, Duties, and Salary Ranges

Physical Therapist Assistant with young patient using bands

In physical therapy, the role of a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) is to help children perform therapeutic exercises that increase their endurance, balance, and coordination. These professionals promote pediatric health and wellness by supporting physical therapists at clinics across the country. Their patients typically range in age from infancy to adolescence.

Our career guide will teach you all you need to know about becoming a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant. We’ll cover the required schooling, certifications, and what to expect from your work environment. This guide also details how much you could make and how long it usually takes to launch your career as a Pediatric PTA.

(Click here to see our full list of the top Physical Therapist Assistant jobs.)

Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant?

Pediatric PTAs can work with patients that range from newborns to young adults. They strive to help their patients live independently in a variety of environments. It all starts with an interview between the physical-therapy team, the child, and their family. The end goal is to strengthen the motor skills of young patients.

(Click here to learn how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant.)

Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

It’s a well-known fact that people require more medical care as they age, but children often need physical therapy as well. This is why Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants are so important. They help younger patients improve their mobility and fine tune their motor skills so that they can thrive. Under the supervision of physical therapists, Pediatric PTAs guide patients through strengthening programs that are designed to enhance their mobility and overall health.

Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

As you might have guessed from their title, Pediatric PTAs generally work in children’s hospitals and as school-based Physical Therapist Assistants. They may also find employment in medical facilities, rehabilitation centers, community health centers, home health services, and private clinics.

Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Although job duties can vary depending on your location and employer, the daily tasks of a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant will generally include the following:

  • Assessing each patient’s progress and reporting back to the physical therapist
  • Assisting patients with exercise programs prescribed by physical therapists
  • Performing hands-on therapy like stretching or reducing tone
  • Teaching families how to continue their child’s plan of care at home
  • Using therapeutic equipment prescribed by the physical therapist

Pediatric PTA Education Requirements & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant?

Because Pediatric PTAs must meet the basic requirements for licensure, they will need to graduate from an accredited associate-degree program and pass the NPTE exam. Some professionals in this field will also pursue advanced proficiency in pediatrics. See the American Physical Therapy Association to learn more about specialized training in several areas of physical therapy for the physical therapist assistant.

Young patient performing exercises with a Physical Therapist Assistant

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant?

Your journey to becoming a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant may take about two years. First, aspiring PTAs must complete an associate-degree program. While most programs require two years of school, an accelerated program would allow you to earn a PTA degree in as little as 20 months.

Once you have passed your program, you will need to complete several other steps before you seek work as a Pediatric PTA. This is to ensure that you are equipped with the necessary skills to help young patients.

Our guide breaks down what it takes to become a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant:

1. Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Program

If you’d like to become a Physical Therapist Assistant in the U.S., you will need to earn an associate degree from a PTA program that is  accredited by CAPTE. It’s important to remember that each program will have its own set of admissions requirements. To give you a better idea, the PTA degree program at Unitek College requires a high school diploma or GED, and grade point average of 2.5 and a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam. In addition, the Unitek College program requires background checks and drug screenings.

While your PTA education will likely include some general-education requirements, most of your program will focus on core classes like anatomy, diseases and disorders, medical terminology, and patient care interventions. Students also learn about kinesiology, assistive equipment, and therapeutic exercise.

2. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

In order to obtain your PTA license and start your career, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). This test demonstrates your mastery of the necessary skills to perform PTA tasks. The NPTE is a multiple-choice test with 200 questions. Keep in mind that you’ll have four hours to complete this exam.

If you’re nervous about taking the test, you might want to speak with graduates who have been in this situation. Talk to your teachers and counselors. Consider practice exams, too. Go to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website to learn more about these exams. They offer PEAT, or the Practice Exam and Assessment Tool, to provide you with an idea of what to expect on the exam.

Bonus Tip: You can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period.

3. Obtain Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

After you’ve successfully completed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in the state(s) where you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, it’s usually easy to transfer your scores to gain licensure in different states. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will be your go-to resource for determining each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Although some states have different requirements for maintaining your PTA license, most states will require the completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

Physical Therapist Assistant helping a young female patient through exercises

4.Gain Work Experience and Additional Certifications

The next step is to build your resume and gain work experience. If you’d like to stand out from other job candidates, you should consider learning sign language to communicate with children with hearing impairments. PTAs who would like to specialize in pediatrics should apply to jobs with pediatric physical therapists. Not only is this one of the most valuable ways to gain experience, but it can also serve as an excellent networking opportunity.

In addition, you might want to consider advanced specialization or certification. Look into certification in pediatrics with the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. This organization provides an option called the Physical Therapy Association’s PTA Recognition of Advanced Proficiency Program.

In order to achieve this designation, you must hold 2,000 hours of work experience with at least 500 hours in pediatrics. You will also need to meet specific requirements in areas like education, job performance, and more. If this interests you, continue reading at the American Physical Therapy Association.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant?

As a Pediatric PTA, you must know how to properly interact with young patients. Again, since Pediatric PTAs work directly with children, they should have great interpersonal skills, a compassionate nature, and diligent tendencies. In addition, these specialized Physical Therapist Assistants will likely need to maneuver their patients on a regular basis. As you can see, physical stamina is vital to the success of a PTA.

Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

Physical Therapist Assistants in the United States earn an average annual salary of about $65,000, which is around $31 per hour. Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that the top industries for PTAs include home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, hospitals, and offices of various practitioners.

Although the BLS doesn’t offer salary information for Pediatric PTAs, Physical Therapist Assistants typically receive a competitive salary that can increase depending on their specializations, location, and experience.

Why Is Pediatrics a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

Some PTAs find great satisfaction in working with younger patients. Adolescence is a time of growth, and Pediatric PTAs strive to help children improve balance and coordination, regain movement, participate in developmental activities, and more. If you are good with kids and want to pursue physical therapy, then a career as a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant could be the ideal choice for you.

Jumpstart Your Educational Journey as a Pediatric PTA

For people who love the idea of helping children improve their motor skills, becoming a Pediatric PTA could be a perfect career choice. Although disabilities or injuries can be a part of life, pediatric physical therapy can support wellness, and promote independence. Now and in the future, there will always be a need for healthcare professionals like Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants.

If you’re interested in becoming a PTA, you should check out the Physical Therapist Assistant program at Unitek College. Don’t waste another minute and start your journey to become a PTA today!

Physical Therapist Assistant helping a young boy sit on a ball