Tag Archives: meaningful life

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.