What is a Direct Support Professional?

People who have developmental and intellectual deficiencies need a direct support professional (DSP) to train them and make their lives better. Being a DSP is challenging and rewarding at the same time. Challenges may include lack of cooperation from your patients, lack of enough facilities and poor response to training. Rewards may include gaining more skills and experience in professional support and having sense of satisfaction and fulfillment resulting from successful training programs.

Key Responsibilities of Direct Support Professionals

Direct support professionals perform the following duties:

• Improve and respect the lives of patients who have physical, mental and developmental disabilities.

• Administer and tack prescribed medications to such patients.

• Train patients to develop appropriate social, behavioral, money management and housekeeping skills.

• Provide feedback regarding the strengths, skills and performance needs of the patients.

• Provide supervision and guidance during skill-building activities.

• Develop a rapport with the patients to nurture safe and supportive relationships.

• Document and report individual progress.

Characteristics of Direct Support Professionals

DSPs possess certain attributes that allow them to perform effectively. They get on with everyone, regardless of their culture, religion, age or background. Since they deal with individuals who have mental, developmental and physical disabilities, DSPs are often tactful, patient and understanding. This is very important since people with mental and physical disabilities tend to perform at a level that is far much below the normal standards. DSPs are also computer literate and possess administrative skills.

How to Become a Direct Support Professional

Those who want to become direct support professionals must complete eight years of grade school or show proof of ability to read and write at the 8th grade level. While this is the most common educational requirement for DSP jobs, a majority of employers hire people with lower credentials, as long as they are 18 years and above.

Applicants must also complete a training program within 120 days after being assigned DSP responsibilities. The curriculum for the program comes the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NASDP) and covers topics that provide national exposure and recognition for the competence and contributions of direct support professionals. Once students complete the training, they are issued with a certification showing that they have mastered all the skills and knowledge required to provide ethical and effective direct support.

Work Environment

Direct support professionals work around 35 to 40 hours a week, including during weekends. They work for governmental institutions, children homes, hostels, senior care centers and hospitals. They may also work in the community offering services to the residents. Their work can be challenging sometimes, since they are supporting people with unpredictable behaviors.

Salary and Job Outlook

Working in direct support is not something you do for money. You do it out of passion and the desire to help the less fortunate in the society. Just like other personal care aides, DSPs earn an average of $10.54 per hour. This translates to $21,920 per year. The earning potential depends on the individual's level of experience. Those who are still starting out earn $17,165 while those who are experienced earn up to $45,583. The employment rate is expected to increase by 26 percent over the next 10 years. This impressive growth will be driven by the increasing population of baby-boomers who need assistance.

Direct support is a perfect job for someone who has lower academic qualifications and is looking for something meaningful to do. As a direct support professional, you will be responsible for training individuals who are physically and mentally challenged to adopt new skills and improve their lives.

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