Many times, I am asked, what is a direct support professional (DSP)? A DSP is someone, usually over eighteen, who is hired to provide individualized support to a person with disabilities. This support may be extensive or light in nature and can include tasks such as assistance with self-care skills like dressing, brushing teeth, and administering medication; daily living skills such as going grocery shopping, preparing meals, or cleaning; as well as providing supports during leisure activities such as redirecting inappropriate behavior, taking the person out in the community for social activities, or providing transportation to and from such activities. A DSP is usually hired through a state accredited agency and paid by the state through programs such as the Medicaid Waiver. Private pay by families is also another option but is not as common.
I have a college student, Annie, who is currently a senior at Indiana University studying speech language pathology, who works with me twice a week as a DSP. She helps with building independent living skills like making sure I pack my lunch for work, we might do laundry, we often cook dinner or run errands like going to Target. Sometimes we do social activities like going to the movies or playing trivia at a bar with friends.
Here are some qualities I look for in a potential DSP:
- Age 21 or over (must be able to go to bars for trivia)
- College Education or In the Process of Seeking Degree Ideally, a Field Having to Do with Serving Clients with Disabilities
- Has Reliable Transportation
- Is Responsible
- Compassionate/ Non-Judgmental
- Good Problem-Solving Skills
- Demonstrates Good Social Skills/ Can Serve a Social Role Model
- Lots of Energy/ Likes to Have Fun, Go Places
- Good Emotional/ Mental Health Stability
- Positive Self-Concept
- Prior Experience with Developmental Disabilities a Plus, but Not Required
Having a DSP is a big part of what makes me independent and able to live away from my parents. I am really thankful Annie is a part of my life and look forward to spending more time together.
The Library at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community (firstname.lastname@example.org) has some resources on hiring and working with DSPs:
Find, choose, & keep great DSPs: A toolkit for families looking for quality, caring, and committed direct support professionals
Find, choose, & keep great DSPs: A toolkit for people with disabilities looking for quality, caring, and committed direct support professionals
DSP education series [DVD]
Community living and participation for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
Kindle book from Amazon:
How to Find, Hire, and Keep Direct Support Professionals: The ultimate guide for agencies serving the developmental disability community (Developmental Disability Supports Book 1)