Monthly Archives: September 2014

My Life as a DSP




Here is a story about what my work life is like working as Direct Support Professional also known as a DSP. I thought I would share this to give others an idea of what work life is like for me. I hope you enjoy reading about it and can be supportive of other DSPs you might see working in your community.

Time: 10:00 am on a Friday. I arrive at my office to meet with fellow staff and check messages and I’m prepared for a long day. I am a Direct Support Professional also known as a DSP; I work with individuals who have developmental disabilities. At 11:30 I pick up my first client, who has cerebral palsy and has trouble sleeping; I assist him to go to the Sleep Center Clinic and acquire new supplies for his c-pap machine. He demonstrates to me that he knows how to fill the new water chamber and insert it into his machine. I adjust his new mask so that it fits properly and I attach the long hose connecting it to the machine; it is now ready for him to use tonight. We also pick up medications and stop at the bank.

I meet another client as she is finishing work. She requires support and extra time in learning new work habits and skills. She works hard in the cafeteria at the state university. We review her finances by studying her checkbook ledger and her computerized finance program.  She works on reconciling her bank statement and compiles a monthly cash flow report. She informs me that she has kept up with her apartment bills and I note these in her checkbook ledger. She memorizes when her bills are due and uses the cash flow report to determine if she is overspending or staying in her monthly budget. She often asks me, “I did a good job, didn’t I?” She also works on making birthday cards for family members on her computer with some help. She has been practicing computer skills and is proud of what she has mastered so far. We also review upcoming medical appointments for next week and plans for the weekend. She will be volunteering as a Sunday school teacher aide.

I then return to the office to pick up the weekend on-call phone and review incoming reports. I count the reports finding not all are in yet. While studying them I note that some clients are suffering from colds and one has started a new medication. He is required to call me over the weekend about administering it correctly. Another individual, who has diabetes, needs to call me regarding her glucose readings. If her readings are in normal range then I know she is fine. If not then I instruct her on what to do and assist her as needed to obtain medical care. I note the times she is expected to call.

I leave the office meeting with an individual with cerebral palsy who works on his hygiene and apartment care tasks. He has a grocery list ready so we go shopping and prepare supper. I review weekend plans and any weather concerns with him; I provide training regarding severe weather safety. Living in Minnesota, I train about safety in severe wintry weather which include staying safe from freezing temperatures, recognizing frostbite and hypothermia, and heeding blizzard advisories and warnings. In the summer months, I train on hot weather safety, keeping hydrated, recognizing heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and heeding severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. For his weekend plans, he tells me, “I’m going to the mall tomorrow.”

I asked, “Are you watching the football game on Sunday?”  He grimaces and shakes his head. Since Minnesota Vikings were not playing he wasn’t interested. He is also required to call me about his medical condition over the next few days. I report to the office one more time staying late to update clients’ charting, and collect all on-call reports. I take more notes and check the clock; I know everyone else is off duty. I am now on-call for 50 clients over the weekend and for all the overnight shifts until next Friday. This means I must be ready to respond to any health questions, safety concerns, and medical emergencies.

I work as a Community Living Coordinator (CLC) and as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in southern Minnesota. As a CLC, I have administrative duties and assist individuals to manage their health care services, finances, and their home responsibilities. I am on-call for emergencies. But most of my work is as a DSP.  In this role,  I work directly with individuals assisting and teaching them in many aspects of independent living such as cooking, planning nutritional meals, shopping, medical appointments, medication administration, apartment maintenance, social skills, exercise, accessing community services (such as the library and the YMCA), and use of public transportation. Each day is different and sometimes I don’t know what the day will bring. I’ve learned to be ready for the unexpected.

The position of a Direct Support Professional (DSP) has only been nationally recognized in recent years and many do not know what a DSP does. As Direct Support Professional, I am trained to work directly with individuals with developmental disabilities assisting them to live as independently as they can. My training covers many areas including individualized program implementation, teaching strategies, CPR, first aid, recognition of illnesses, infection control procedures, work related health and fire safety, and on following state and federal confidentiality laws which apply to all health care related services. I receive training specific to each individual on my caseload as each one has unique health care needs and teaching strategies which work for that person.

I specifically work in a Semi-independent Living Services (SILS) program with individuals who have developmental disabilities and who are trying to maintain their independence for as long as they can in their own homes. DSPs work in other settings including intermediate care facilities (ICFs which incorporate 24 hour nursing similar to nursing homes) and Supportive Living Services (known as SLS which entail 24 hour supervision in group home settings in the community). In the SILS setting, I work with individuals who had lived in state institutions, SLS settings, or with their families. These individuals have cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and other forms of developmental disabilities.

In earlier years, I’ve worked in an ICF setting which was a 44 bed facility divided into eleven apartment units. Each apartment contained a kitchen, living room, bathroom and four bedrooms allowing four individuals to live in each apartment. I worked with individuals who had autism, Congenital Rubella Syndrome, Prader-Willes Syndrome, and Cornelia Delaine Syndrome.  Many of these individuals had moved to the ICF facility from a state institution where they had lived secluded from society for years, even decades.

While working with individuals who were deaf and blind, I learned American Sign Language so that I could communicate with them in their hands (also known as tactile signing). I needed to determine a name sign for myself so I chose to sign “be” next to my right check. When I signed this to an individual who couldn’t see or hear, then that person knew which staff was working with him. One day, I as I was working with a group who were deaf and blind, one of the individuals, who also uses a wheelchair, was moaning and frantically signing, “Help please, help please.”

I approached him as he was seated at the dining table, tapped on his shoulder and signed in his hands, “What do you want?”

“Boat, please,” he signed as he moaned and frowned.

His collection of miniature boats and airplanes was scattered on the table. He has memorized his entire collection and one of his favorite boats had fallen on the floor. I retrieved the boat giving it back to him.

“Thank you,” he signed with a bright smile.

In the ICF setting, I assisted people with medications, exercise programs, and physical therapy.  I also taught basic skills in hygiene care, cooking, and family style dining. This is when individuals sit in small groups like a family around the dining table while I assist them to serve themselves and pass serving dishes to their peers. We also engage in conversation. This is often a social learning experience for individuals who formerly ate in large groups in the state hospitals where family dining was unheard of. I also assisted and taught about apartment care responsibilities, communication (modified sign language), leisure interests and community integration.

An example of community integration is when on a bright summer day, I walked with a young lady to a nearby fast food restaurant. This is her first time to visit this restaurant and I teach her the steps of ordering and paying for a meal. As we approach the counter, I read to her food options from an overhead menu. A young clerk is waiting to take her order.

With some encouragement from me, Alice announces and signs her order, “I want a hamburger, fries, and a pop.” Her pronunciation of words is garbled and the clerk’s helpful smile freezes.

I step forward, “let’s try that again. Now you said a hamburger?”

“Hamburger,” she repeats.

“And you said fries?”

“Fries,” she stated again.

“And you said?”

“Pop,” she answers. She also signs “pop” with enthusiasm. The clerk’s smile remains frozen.

I scratch my head, “which kind of pop? There’s coke, orange, or Sprite?’

“Coke,” she finishes her order and I instruct her how to pay for her meal. The young lady behind the counter has returned to life accepting the payment and filling her order.

“Thank you,” she replies and signs as she receives her tray of food.

Each person I work with today in the SILS program lives in his or her own house or apartment in the community.  Each individual is unique and each has an individualized set of goals and learning objectives to work on (such as managing a checkbook, paying bills, preparing nutritional meals, oral care, and cleaning apartment). I support and teach them how to meet their planned goals. Each learning goal is constructed into an individualized program plan. Each person is also encouraged to select personal outcomes.

While program plans address learning skills related to personal health care, managing finances, home care, and independent living in the community, outcomes are unique personal interest goals; they often represent aspiring dreams and desires. For instance, one individual wanted to learn computer skills and digital photography. Another person wanted to go on a vacation in Florida while a third wanted to attend Driver’s Education classes.   One gentleman returned to school to earn his high school diploma. I help write individual program plans and outcomes devising strategies of how each person could meet his or her desired goals. As a DSP, I meet with individuals on my caseload through the week implementing their personal program plans and outcome strategies so they may build on their independent living skills and achieve their desired personal goals.

Time: 8:00 am the following Friday morning. I have completed my week of CLC on-call duties. I report to the office returning the on-call cell phone and the on-call book.  I meet with supervisors and other staff to review continuing concerns. I also prepare a report for the next on-call staff. I gather my keys, my notes, and regular work cell phone. Driving to meet the first client on my schedule, I was ready to continue the day in my life as a DSP. While on this journey, I have learned to look beyond a disability and see the unique person inside. With each person, I see someone with dreams, unique abilities, and personal interests who like me and everyone else I know, wants to be cared about and valued by others and pursue a full and meaningful life.

Friday Verse Journal John 11:25




Even though this is two days late, I am still posting it in m y Friday Verse Journal. Right now, I am reading through the gospel of John and recently was led to this verse. As i push my way through daily toils, trials, and occasional disappointments, I was reminded to focus on the hope of heaven and the new life we will have there. Earthly hopes and dreams are temporary and have a way of disappearing. When I find that something that I have so longed for just isn’t going to happen, I am overcome with a sense of heavy disappointment. While reading John 11, I was reminded to focus instead of the permanent hope we have in Jesus, Furthermore, I heard a sermon last night in which i was reminded that for those who believe in Jesus, that death is not the final chapter in life. Instead, death is a doorway, a passage into a new life.

John 11:25 (Holy Bible English Standard Version):

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he dies, yet shall he live.”

Missing My Mom


Her smiling face and her voice laced with gentle laughter

Quiet moments resting in her favorite chair.

Long walks around the fields to the hidden pond

Just to hear frogs croak and melodious birdsong.

Clanging sounds and sweet aromas drifting from the kitchen

With sourdough bread and pineapple ham baking in the oven

Busy hands and nimble fingers moving in rhythm

Crocheting a doll, slippers or perhaps a colorful afghan

Grand Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations

With the house full of joyful and elated loved ones.

Keeping us all together on a thundering, stormy night

To lessen our cries, our fear and overwhelming fright.

On a cold wintry day, building a fire in the fireplace

So we can rest in its’ warm, and comforting embrace.

Long, peaceful visits on a quiet summer eve

Such sweet memories that will never leave.

The Quiet Road


Thank you Lord for this quiet country road

Where I can travel at a peaceful and leisurely stroll.

Thank you Lord for the wide prairie, fields, and forest green

Such nourishment for my soul which hungers for gentle tranquility.

Thank you Lord for this less traveled path through the countryside

For it is the roadway you have shown to me, it is my silent guide.

Thank you Lord for the wild flowers that I see along the way.

A splash of yellow, orange, or purple to brighten my day.

Thank you Lord for the peaceful places to quietly rest

Where I can slow my thoughts and pause from my daily quest.

Thank you Lord for remaining faithfully inside of me

For when I’m most alone, you gently keep me company.

Friday Verse Journal Psalms 46:10a

Lately, as I pray and contemplate about things, I realize that I am easily distracted by the obstacles in my personal life and too easily led astray by distractions of this world. I need to pause, turn away from distractions and be quiet. And in that silence just remember God:




Psalms 46:10a (Holy Bible American Standard Version):

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Taming my Temper, Taming my Words


Oh how my temper can flare and burst

and how my unkind words can hurt.

I think that I am so good, so very fine

when suddenly hurtfulness slips from this tongue of mine.

Oh dearest Lord, please help me to remain calm,

Think, and speak so carefully

For sometimes it takes not much for me to

lash out in outspoken indignity.

Must remember to be slow, gentle,

and be selective in what I hear

To protect myself from others’ spiteful words;

their verbal arrows that pierce and sear.

Such inflicting pain we cause each other

just by a hasty and careless voice

But it doesn’t need to be, for God enables us to be kind;

he equips us to make that choice.

So, with your faithful help Lord as you teach

 and speak so softly deep inside of me,

Please enable me to show your love by being helpful,

gentle and speaking most encouragingly.

A Long Stormy Night


Though it is early evening thick graying clouds cover the sun

Darkness is descending and I sense a shadow of coming doom.

With one lamp turned on I fidget in the semi darkness

I cannot be still; I cannot find peace and rest.

Reports are streaming in describing a night of gloom.

I gaze out the window knowing what will come soon.

Rumbles of thunder and lightning will flash across the sky

As I sit here alone and restless on this pending stormy night.

The wind will sway and whistle through the trees;

Such a haunting, eerie sound that I can’t calm my shaking knees.

Away from the windows I hover breathless and hiding deep inside

Fearing that first crack of thunder coming tonight.

No one to talk to and no one to comfort and hold my hand

As I sit alone waiting for this long fearsome night to end.

I crouch in quiet dread not even bothering to go to bed

As I ponder and wonder about this tumultuous night ahead.

God seems far away right now, though I know that’s not true

He is watching over me as I sit alone in this darkened room.

It is darker now as the thickened clouds are drifting closer to me.

Soon it will be pitch black and I will no longer see

Encroaching danger lies so close by; somewhere near, just outside

Oh here it comes, the first rumble of thunder; the first hint of a long stormy night.