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9 Responsibilities Every Successful Direct Support Professional Needs to Master
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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Thinking about becoming a direct support professional? Here's everything you need to know about what direct support professionals do, how to become a direct support professional and what to expect from a career as a direct support professional.

What does a direct support professional do?

A direct support professional is someone who cares for people who have disabilities. The direct support professional is the person who encourages the people for whom they care to lead more independent lives and to become better integrated into their communities.

As a direct support professional, you could work in a whole host of environments — from schools and companies to religious institutions and assisted living homes.

The job responsibilities for a direct support professional may be as follows:

  • Helping to establish a safe space and positive environment that nurtures peoples' needs and goals
  • Overseeing residents (if in an assisted living home or live-in healthcare institution) and taking care of their needs
  • Performing housekeeping duties (if in an assisted living home or live-in healthcare institution)
  • Performing homework help (if in a school)
  • Performing career help (if in a company)
  • Delivering training for residents in compliance with healthcare professionals’ rules and specific guidelines  (if in an assisted living home or live-in healthcare institution)
  • Improving peoples’ productivity and participation in the community
  • Promoting independence in daily activities, such as school, work and leisure
  • Operating facility's vehicles in compliance with company/organization policies

How do you become a direct support professional?

Here's how to become a direct support professional in three steps.

1. Build up your experience.

First things first, make sure that you have experience on your resume. While any experience in the working world that shows that you're loyal and good with people is key, you will also want to have specific experience that ties to a career as a direct support professional. This means that you may want to spend your off time volunteering to help people with disabilities or taking a part-time job doing it. You may also want to intern with a school, healthcare center or company that works to help people with disabilities, as well, so you can get to know what the job might look like.

Two or more years of experience is typically preferred to land a job as a direct support professional.

2. Get a DSP certificate and training.

What is a DSP certificate? A DSP certificate is a certificate that you'll receive after undergoing training to become a direct support professional. You can gain this certification through the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals. While it may not be necessary to be certified, many hiring managers may look for candidates with this certification.

Your employer will typically provide training in other things like CPR, behavior management, abuse, neglect, exploitation and occupational safety.

3. Apply for jobs

Apply for jobs to become a direct support professional. You can search for jobs on job boards like Fairygodboss, for example! You might also apply for jobs you learn of through networking opportunities  or through groups on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. You may also want to work with a recruiter to help you find a job as a direct support professional.

One other surefire way to find jobs is to find a mentor. Talk to someone who is already working in the field who can share their experiences and job hunting advice with you — and who can give you a clearer idea of what you might expect in your job hunt and perhaps help you to find potential opportunities.

Skills every direct support professional has in common

You might have to have the following requirements to become a direct support professional, though requirements will vary by the employer:

  • A high school diploma (GED)
  • A bachelor's degree in a related field like psychology
  • CPR and first aid certification
  • A clean criminal background check
  • A completed health screening
  • A clean drug test
  • Experience in social services 
  • Life experience with people who have disabilities
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Your own vehicle  or the ability to operate the facility's vehicle
  • Flexible schedule
  • Organizational skills
  • Time-management skills
  • People skills
  • Dependability
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Teamwork skills
  • Collaboration skills 
  • The comfort level to help patients with hygiene
  • The comfort level to help patients with typical day-to-day activities
  • Reliability
  • An ability to tell when someone isn't feeling well or is feeling differently, and can seek the appropriate help in a calm and timely manner
  • The ability to talk to family members about their loved one in an empathetic, compassionate and accessible way
  • A calm composure under pressure
  • Punctuality, as many patients depend on their direct support professional and rely on routine and predictability

How much money does a direct support professional make?

A direct support professional's salary varies by employer and their experience level. That said, the average hourly wage for a direct support professional is $14 (as of November 25, 2019), but the salary range typically falls between $13 and $16, according to Salary.com. The top 10% earn an hourly wage that equals $29,556 (or $14.21 per hour), according to Payscale.

Talk to your employer about your salary expectations, and learn how to negotiate for higher pay, if you're uncomfortable with their starting rate, here. There's no harm in trying to shoot for more, but make sure you're aware of the industry standards and setting fair goals for yourself. 

It's also important to talk to your employer about your benefits package, which might include paid time off, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, a retirement plan, school support, professional development programs and more. Again, the benefits that your employer chooses to offer you will vary.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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