Posted on November 10, 2022
By Erkia Brandon, Direct Support Professional (DSP), Residential Assistant
I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working at a Student Loan Bureau in Harrisburg. I was eager to find a career that would provide meaning for me and touch the lives of others. So when a friend of mine told me about a job opening where she worked at Penn-Mar Human Services, I was quick to apply.
I had no previous experience in the human services field, but I eventually was hired in 2019 to support a gentleman who does not communicate verbally, has autism, and is diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
I had grown up with a niece with autism so I was somewhat familiar with it but really had no idea how challenging my job responsibilities would be.
The gentleman I support has some more intensive behavioral needs, so two DSPs are assigned to his personal care around-the-clock. When I first met him, it was clear he didn’t like change. At the first home where he lived, he would never let us decorate for the holidays although now, in his new residence, he is sometimes open to it.
We would spend time with him watching TV, doing puzzles and games like UNO and Bingo, and often played basketball outside.
He would care for himself doing laundry and folding his own clothes and that could sometimes take three hours to complete. He is very particular about routines, wanting things to be done in a very specific way.
Now, at 63, with his OCD progressing, he has no interest in playing games. On the days when he doesn’t have the energy or interest in dressing, he prefers to stay in his room where we often listen to his musical favorites, Neil Diamond, Elvis, and Patsy Kline.
When he is up to it, we go out for a drive or hair appointment, and often dine out at his favorite restaurant, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen.
Always the perfect gentleman, he makes sure our forks, knives and spoons are perfectly lined up and always removes the wrapper on the straw before putting them in each of our glasses. And did I mention that he kisses me on both cheeks when he first sees me?
My co-worker and I always say that when the person we support has a good day, we all have a good day! His struggles and determination have touched me deeply. He is the reason that I now have a dream to one day become a Behavioral Health Specialist. He is my inspiration to go further in my career and I know I will get there someday because of his example.
Before I took maternity leave four months ago to have my son Kamaree, I was the Senior Residential Assistant in this gentleman’s home. As a single Mom, I have had to scale back my responsibilities in the role of Residential Assistant, but my commitment to continue providing him with a purposeful life has not waivered.
The job of a DSP requires immense patience and a willingness to try to really understand the people you are supporting. Some days are slower and more challenging than others.
But then you have those days when the kiss on both cheeks from a person who is waiting for you to walk through the door makes you realize that you have indeed found the meaningful job you always hoped for.