Government Job Profile: Direct Support Professional

direct support professional assisting with game
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Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD, need people in their lives who provide them with assistance and instruction on completing tasks most people take for granted. The people who provide this help and training are called direct support professionals, or DSPs.

This job offers challenging and rewarding work. Challenges come from just about every facet of the job. For example, co-workers might not show up, causing you to work longer hours than you expected; individuals can exhibit violent, self-injurious, or destructive behaviors; or you might have to clean up a disgusting mess. Despite these challenges, the job is rewarding because DSPs help the people they serve learn new skills and reach life goals.

DSP jobs are available in the public and private sectors. In government, DSPs are employed at state-run institutions for individuals with IDD. Individuals live at these institutions. Some of them work with DSPs to learn skills necessary to live in settings like group homes and assisted living facilities.

Selecting a Direct Support Professional

The selection process for DSPs is fairly basic. People apply, interview, and have background checks run on them. If everything turns out okay on the background check, they are hired. In government, job openings are filled using the normal government hiring process. Because the turnover rate is high among DSPs, employers need to fill vacant positions quickly, so they may skip a few of the steps in the hiring process.

The Education You'll Need

The most common educational requirement for DSP jobs is a high school education, but many employers do not even require that. Most employers require DSPs to be at least 18 years old.

The Experience You Need

DSP jobs do not require any experience. Employers provide all the training new hires will need which is often extensive. Beyond new employee orientation, employers provide training on CPR; behavior management; occupational safety; and abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Whatever you need to know on the job, the employer will provide training for it. 

What You'll Do

DSPs help individuals with IDD by providing them with a safe living environment, helping them with daily tasks, and teaching them life skills. DSPs can work with adults and children.

For DSPs to provide a safe living environment, they make sure the risk of injuries is minimized and other health hazards are kept away from individuals. For instance, DSPs take precautions like keeping sharp knives in locked drawers, storing household cleaners in locked cabinets, monitoring individuals’ behavior toward themselves and others, and reporting to appropriate authorities any instances of suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Most of the time, reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation are investigated by adult protective services specialists.

On a daily basis, DSPs help individuals with tasks most other people take for granted. Tasks like cooking, cleaning, showering, toileting, leaving the house, shopping, and managing money take a little more effort for individuals with IDD. DSPs assist with tasks individuals cannot do for themselves and teach tasks individuals can learn to do for themselves. Both the individual and DSP feel a great sense of accomplishment when the individual learns to complete a new task.

The most important personality trait for DSPs is patience. There will be times when you are frustrated. Individuals will have bad days where they act out or refuse to cooperate with instructions. You have to take a step back and remember why you are there—to help the individuals do things and learn things they cannot do for themselves. They need your help, and sometimes they cannot express their discontent, unhappiness, or frustration in productive ways.

In addition to patience, DSPs need compassion, honesty, integrity, composure under pressure, dependability, punctuality, and a strong sense of teamwork. These characteristics will help you deal with the challenges of the work and will make you someone with whom other DSPs want to work. 

Over time, DSPs develop a keen sense of observation. They can tell when something isn’t right with the individuals they serve. Perhaps the thing bothering an individual is being slightly off on a daily ritual, but sometimes the issue can be more serious. When they can’t put their finger on what’s wrong, DSPs review documentation and ask others involved with the individual what might be going on. Other DSPs, medical professionals, other individuals, and family members might be able to shed light on the situation.

Whatever is happening, DSPs try to figure out the problem so they can involve the appropriate people to help.

What You'll Earn

This is definitely not a line of work you go into for the money. According to 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for personal care aides is $9.57 per hour. Two large factors contributing to this low wage are the minimal amount of education required and the high turnover within the workforce.