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AOTA Board & Specialty Certification: Why & How

Published October 11, 2008 7:14 PM by Jessica LaGrossa

This afternoon I attended AOTA's presentation on board and specialty certification by Pamela Roberts, PhD, OTR/L, SCFES, CPHQ, FAOTA; Winifred Schultz-Krohn, PhD, OTR/L, SWC, BCP, FAOTA; and Deborah Pitts, MBA, OTR/L, CPRP.

It is an area that can be confusing and intimidating to occupational therapists. Most of those in attendance have been in practice for 10 years or less and are in the beginning stages of investigating the possibilities specialty certification.

Many OTs wonder, "Why should I seek out AOTA certification?" Good question! The presenters explained that the current practice environment requires more and more that OTs be able to communicate the immediate effectiveness of interventions and demonstrate continuous professional growth. AOTA board and specialty certification provides formal recognition for practitioners who have engaged in a voluntary process of ongoing professional development and gain improved client outcomes.

Clinicians may seek out specialty certification for personal accomplishment, professional recognition, and/or advancement.

And, as an added bonus, one of the presenters pointed out that some organizations will give a bump in salary as long as you maintain your specialty certification!

So, now that you know why it can be as asset to seek AOTA certifications, you must figure out what you should specialize in.

Areas of board certification:

  • Gerontology (BCG)
  • Mental Health (BCMH)
  • Pediatrics (BCP)
  • Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)

Areas of specialty certification:

  • Driving and Community Mobility (OT: SCDCM; OTR: SCADCM)
  • Environmental Modification (OT: SCEM; OTR: SCAEM)
  • Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (OT: SCFES; OTR: SCAFES)
  • Low Vision (OT: SCLV; OTR: SCALV)

"You will earn letters to go after your name, and no one will know what they mean," pointed out a Schultz-Krohn, "so you will have to tell them. So it's a great opportunity to educate others!"

Now, here are the basic requirements...

Minimal Initial Requirements for Board Certification:

  • 5 years as an OT
  • 5,000 hour experience in OT in certification area in the last 7 calendar years
  • 500 hours experience direct delivery of OT services in the certification area in the last 5 calendar years

Minimum Initial Requirements for Specialty Certification:

  • 2,000 hours as an OT or OTA
  • 600 hours experience in the last 5 calendar years of direct delivery of OT services in the specific specialty area

Criteria (used to be called indicators) required to meet each competency are based on the Standards for Continuing Competence and identify the:

  • knowledge
  • critical reasoning
  • interpersonal skills
  • performance skills
  • ethical reasoning

The application process is based on peer-review and includes demonstration of relevant experience, a reflective portfolio and ongoing professional development.

  • Demonstration of relevant experience can be proven via employee verification forms. You may have as many forms as many different employers as needed to document the required hours. Volunteer service delivery may also be included. (this is a form that you fill out)


  • Your reflective portfolio must include physical evidence verifying and supporting the professional development activities that you submit to demonstrate achievement of he competencies and their criteria. It should also include one reflection for each competency that describes how the activities demonstrate how you meet the competency and criteria; influenced the way you practice; and affected the outcomes your clients had.

"A portfolio was chosen rather than a test because individuals can test at a high level, but may not be practicing at a broad level," explained Schultz-Krohn.

Hints to creating a portfolio:

  1. collect evidence of participation in professional development that best demonstrates how you meet the competencies and criterion
  2. make sure all required evidence is included
  3. write a reflection for each competency
  • Ongoing professional development includes a self-assessment in which you must describe your current practice in relation to the certification and how you envision your practice area changing in the future as well as what you have discovered that you want to learn more about in relation to the competencies. In addition, this section includes a professional development plan in which you establish 1 measurable goal for each of the Standards for Continuing Competencies.

"This is your chance to express what will best help you and your clients," Schultz-Krohn said of the reflective portfolio. "It is a treatment plan for yourself."

And as far as being overwhelmed by the process, Pitts told attendees, "It is important to remember that the work that you do to meet NBCOT, board certification, state licensing, etc requirements is the same work...the same activity that allows you to meet all of these criteria can be presented to all these different venues. You are already doing all of this."

The presenters provided some pointers for attendees for pulling together evidence.

Evidence Do's:

  • have at least 1 activity for every criterion and competency
  • ensure that all evidence is relevant to the assigned criterion and competency
  • include a minimum of 5 activity categories across the competencies
  • label, label, label your evidence

Evidence Don'ts:

  • don't use a single activity for more than 4 different criterion
  • don't give a single piece of evidence more than 1 label when entering it in the application (for example, a "presentation" can not also be a "program development)
  • don't include an excessive amount of evidence

The persenters also suggested to "focus" when getting started!


F: frame the context of the competency and each criterion by reading the client outcome

O: objectify thoughts by identifying key words

C: clarify key words by using the application glossary and the OT Practice Framework

U: unmask personal biases and put them aside so they don't inappropriately influence your interpretation

S: summarize and synthesize your interpretation of the competency and the criteria by validating them against each other.


Now, are you interested in becoming board or specialty certified by AOTA? If so, applications may be submitted in either June or December of each year and are peer reviewed by 2 or more trained reviewers who are also AOTA Board or Specialty certified. Certifications are renewed every 5 years. The first renewal cycle requires a full peer review of a reduced application (2 indicators per competency); all other renewals are by random audit.

Please note that there are upcoming changes for 2009: (effective June 2009 submissions)

  • Competencies and criteria will be reduced and streamlined so that there is a are 4-6 competencies for each certification and between 28-32 indicators.
  • A reduced number of narrative reflections, from 13 to no more than 6.
  • Special certification will do a self-assessment and professional development plan.

If you have additional questions (and I totally understand if you do!) you can use the following contact infomation:

1-800-SAY-AOTA ext. 2838

posted by Jessica LaGrossa
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Hello Adriana, thanks for the comment. Your best bet is probably to contact the AOTA directly through the contact info listed at the end of the blog post. Good luck!

Brian Ferrie, ADVANCE for OT January 26, 2016 7:43 AM

I'm a therapist from Colombia graduated on 1985 I had a Board license in the USA  since 2005 and I will like to get my certification in feeding I don't know where to start . I will appreciate some assistance.

Adriana , Peditric - Owner, AT Services Inc January 25, 2016 8:42 PM
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I am trying to find information on how to obtain my SWC but I am having difficulty.  Can anyone help me with this information.  Thanks

Darcy, Occupational therapy - OTR/L September 17, 2012 8:58 PM

The biggest obstacle facing the OTA is the very limited number of Speciality areas offered to them.  Many of these areas have few, if any, OTA's working in them. It is actually a form of limiting the ability of a group to achieve a professional goal...a professional bias?

The old AP credential allowed the OTA to choose their area of specialization. Many OTA's were credentialed in Peds, hands, general rehab etc....

I personally believe that such a system should be brought back for the specialty certification. Otherwise, how can this group say they are supporting all practitioners....there is something wrong with this system.

Debbie October 14, 2008 11:30 AM

The article mentions, that changes are coming. Are they considering to provide certification in Sensory Integration as well in the future?

Berenice, Several - OTR/L, Community October 13, 2008 9:37 PM
Jackson TN

Nice article, however specility certifications have always been limited to OTR's only. From what I am aware of, a COTA can take the necessary classes for a specility certification, but then are not allowed to use the title.

Tim Banish, COTA/L October 13, 2008 12:40 PM
Cincinnati OH

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