THE DAILY JOURNAL: COMMENTARY: DIRECT SUPPORT PROFESSIONALS CARE
The role of the direct support professional is both rewarding and challenging. While it is not a job for everyone, it is a job that connects people to people in a very unique and powerful way.
Direct support professionals work with people with developmental and intellectual disabilities in a variety of ways — from home care, to assisting with job placement, to helping them navigate and become integrated into their community.
When I started my career as a direct support professional, I was a feeding and bathing aide — not the most glamorous work.
Nonetheless, I was drawn to those I served in a way that was hard to explain.
Many of my friends questioned why I would take on the sometimes intense challenges that came with the job. Eventually they grew to understand that the connections I made with people at their most vulnerable were unlike any that most people ever make in a traditional work setting.
That ability to connect with others is what makes a staff member a valuable professional. When the role of direct support professional was first developed, people were often “trained” in a few hours or less. As the nation began to embrace the idea that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community, large congregate facilities run by state governments and private entities began to close.
Because of the often complex medical and behavioral challenges many people had that first placed them in an institution, service providers and direct support professionals were faced with huge challenges in serving people safely and appropriately in a community setting.
Some direct support professionals are drawn to people with high medical needs, some are drawn to those with unusual and sometimes violent behaviors, while others bring the gift of teaching those that others have failed to reach. In all cases, once a connection is made, the person behind the diagnoses emerges and becomes part of the direct support professional’s life.
To achieve that connection, the position has moved beyond simply being a caretaker to becoming a professional, which means weeks of initial training and regular ongoing trainings are required to develop a variety of skills, all focused on helping each individual served maximize their opportunities and build on their strengths in order to achieve their greatest level of independence.
Direct support professionals often take on the roles of eyes and ears, hands, feet, mentor, friend, companion and guide.
It is a difficult job that some people abandon quickly, while others embrace it as a calling and long-term career path.
During this National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, Benchmark Human Services thanks our direct support professionals and the thousands of direct support professionals throughout the country who are quiet heroes to those they serve each day.
It is because of these driven and compassionate professionals that people with disabilities have the opportunity to live in their own homes, find and keep meaningful employment, be active members of their community and live life to its fullest extent.
Douglas Beebe is president of residential services for Benchmark Human Services, based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
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