What Is a Direct Support Professional? - Penn-Mar

What Is a Direct Support Professional?

Posted on December 28, 2021

You may have heard the term “Direct Support Professional” before and wondered exactly what it meant. Direct Support Professionals are healthcare and human services workers who play an essential role in helping others. In this article, we’ll explain what a Direct Support Professional is, what they do, their responsibilities, and also the skills, characteristics, and qualifications needed to become a Direct Support Professional. First, let’s focus on what a Direct Support Professional is.

What is a Direct Support Professional?

Direct Support Professionals—also known as DSPs—are individuals who work to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). DSPs help those with disabilities to perform tasks, but focus on teaching those individuals how to perform those tasks on their own as well. In this way, DSPs differ from caregivers who do everything themselves. DSPs are more focused on helping people learn how to do things independently.

What Does a Direct Support Professional Do?

DSPs support people with IDD in a variety of ways, but each of them is in an effort to assist the person to be able to do things independently and become integrated into their community. The responsibilities of DSPs are wide-ranging and depend on the needs of the specific individual they are supporting. However, here are some of the main job duties of a Direct Support Professional:

  • Help with everyday tasks, such as cooking meals, housekeeping, running errands, accompanying the individual to appointments, and more
  • Keep track of important personal information, including medication logs, daily activities, casework notes, behavioral assessments, financial reports, and more
  • Help the person with money management, paying bills, etc.
  • Provide counseling for the person and crisis intervention
  • Help the person keep a safe living space
  • Assist the person with personal hygiene
  • Teach the person important life skills
  • Transporting the person to any appointments or other activities
  • For certain people, DSPs may also need to administer medication, manage the person’s medical records, or develop a behavioral management plan for the person

Now that we’ve covered what a DSP is and what they do, let’s look at some of the skills, characteristics, and qualifications needed to become a DSP.

What Are the Skills, Characteristics, and Qualifications Needed to Be a DSP?

While most everyone thinks that helping others is important, that doesn’t mean they are looking to do that as a full-time job. Being a DSP can be a demanding—yet incredibly fulfilling—career and requires a person with specific abilities in order to be successful. Here are some of the main skills and characteristics that make for a great DSP:

  • Dependability – You are being trusted to care for another person and to support them, so you must be dependable and show up when/where you’re supposed to
  • Organizational and Administrative Skills – Being a DSP requires organization skills to keep track of all the paperwork, appointments, medication, and other needs of the people you support
  • Interpersonal Skills – Interpersonal skills are another crucial part of being a DSP, as being kind, compassionate, and connecting with the people you support is a central part of the job
  • Composure – Staying calm and composed in stressful situations will be essential as you support people with behavioral needs and intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Observation – You will have to observe people and keep track of their needs, their daily activities, and more, so being able to stay focused and pay careful attention is important
  • Communication – Most jobs require communication skills, but they are even more important for a DSP since you’ll be supporting someone else. You’ll need to talk with the person’s family, doctors, your own employer, and more to make sure the person receives all the support they require
  • Advocacy – DSPs are important advocates for the people they support. Being able to advocate with someone for what they want in life is a critical component of the job.

There are also certain qualifications and requirements to become a DSP. These include:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent, such as a GED
  • A valid driver’s license and a good driving record
  • A medical examination that includes a physical and drug screening
  • A criminal background check
  • Some employers will also require you to have specific certifications, like CPR, First Aid, behavior management, and Strategies for Crisis Intervention and Prevention (SCIP). Many employers, like Penn-Mar, will also train you for these certifications if you don’t already have them and pay you for the training.
  • There is also a National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) that has a certification program where individuals can be certified on three different levels: DSP-Registered, DSP-Certified, DSP-Specialist. These certifications are nationally-recognized. Penn-Mar not only participates in the program, but also pays for DSPs to participate, and offers annual bonuses and wage enhancements for each level achieved. For more information, visit the NADSP’s website. 

On-the-job training is very common for DSPs, so even if you don’t have specific certifications or training yet, you can still be hired. Requirements also vary depending on the state you live in and the specific employer you are applying to work for. 

If you’re interested in becoming a DSP and starting a career in the human services field, consider applying with us at Penn-Mar today! Our mission is to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to live courageous lives full of self-determination, independence, and equity. Our approach is innovative, person-centered, and successful. Through meaningful employment, community inclusion, and residential choice, the people Penn-Mar supports are empowered to live their best lives. 

If you’re interested in a human services career and want to make a difference in the lives of others, consider filling out an application to join our team! You can also get involved by learning more about our services, making a donation, or signing up to volunteer with us today!

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