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Support professionals are the unsung heroes of healthcare

Exercise is an important aspect of a client's routine.

As a Direct Support Professional for Easter Seals UCP, I find the job both challenging and rewarding. Here are my thoughts about working with people who need help with some aspects of everyday life:

A Direct Support Professional (DSP) is a dedicated and compassionate person who provides care and support for people with disabilities or special needs. The DSP’s purpose is to help these people lead independent and fulfilling lives.


DSPs patiently assist their clients with daily activities, including but not limited to personal hygiene, meal preparation, medication management, and leisure activities, as well as provide emotional support and personal guidance to help create a positive and inclusive environment for their clients.


My client, whom I’ll call Sally, is an older woman with mental health diagnoses and developmental disabilities. I have worked with her for nearly six years.  She doesn’t read or write well, but she has a great sense of self and a keen interest in life, and she is savvy about life in many ways. And she has a great sense of humor. When we go to get to her weekly blood work, she always introduces us to the technician or nurse.  “I’m Jill, and this is Sally,” she’ll say, her eyes sparkling with fun. No matter if they’ve heard the joke before, she makes them laugh. Sally is the happiest and most pleasant client I’ve ever had, a joy to be around. We go to the local Senior Center nearly every day, and everyone there knows her and loves her. 

DSPs must be patient, empathetic, calm, and skilled at adapting their approach to their client’s specific needs and challenges. They must understand their clients’ rights and make sure they have access to resources and opportunities. They not only provide direct care, but also collaborate with other healthcare professionals, family members and community organizations to create care plans and goals, to document progress, communicate with healthcare providers, and contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of their clients.


Sally’s physicians love her cheerful nature and her jokes, and she helps them to explain things to her thoroughly when she has a problem by asking a lot of questions. She is quite the flirt with the male workers at the Center, with her male nurses, and with her male doctors, but in an enchanting way. When we drive by one doctor’s office, she will smile and shout, “Hey, Honey, how ya doin’?” But she is always a perfect patient in their offices.


Requirements for a DSP role include good communication skills, interpersonal skills, the ability to build trust and rapport with their clients, good critical thinking skills, and good problem-solving techniques.


Easter Seals UCP (United Cerebral Palsy) of North Carolina and Virginia, the organization I work for, has a system of goals, for which we report the level of attainment for our client for each day’s services. Sally does very well with her goals, which include taking her medications daily, working on her time management skills to be ready in the morning and make her appointments on time, maintaining her budget, using good coping skills in her social interactions, being considerate of others’ opinions, and doing a range of activities including feeding the ducks at a local lake, doing arts and crafts, going to the library or the YMCA gym. 


A Direct Support Professional helps a client do arts and crafts.

She has gotten very good with her art projects, as well as dancing to the music at our weekly Zumba classes. Sally is an excellent dancer and when the music starts and she begins to dance, the entire group starts shouting, “Go, Sally, go Sally!” which she loves. Even the instructor shouts along with us!


Sally is my favorite client in my experience, and I enjoy most of my time with her. We do butt heads occasionally, but we always work to resolve our differences. I’m still working on her not to spend half her month’s money at Walmart the day she gets her Social Security check and instead buy less items and shop on a weekly basis. She is a food hoarder, and I periodically must help her clean out spoiled food in her fridge or spoiled produce on her kitchen counters. But I believe she has gotten better at resisting hoarding since I started working with her. 


Sally has enriched my life in many ways, and while she frustrates me sometimes, we do get along very well. I feel honored to help her with her life adjustments and proud of the rapport we have developed. Being a Direct Support Professional can be challenging but it is also very fulfilling.


If you think someone you know in the Indianapolis area might need the help described here, visit

About the author:

Jill H. Stout works with people who have physical and developmental disabilities. She is an Indianapolis native who now lives in

North Carolina. Contact her at 



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