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A direct support professional assists individuals with developmental disabilities in caring for themselves and maintaining their independence. The actual services provided by a direct support professional will depend in part on the needs of his or her clients as well as the policies of his or her employer. Typical activities for a direct support professional include providing instruction to clients in areas of self-care and hygiene, assisting them with living independently or in a residential setting, and providing them with support in securing and maintaining employment.
In many jurisdictions, public policy encourages the integration of individuals with developmental disabilities into communities. When possible, these policies support those with cognitive disabilities being able to live independently or in a group setting that allows residence a significant amount of freedom. At the same time, those who have developmental disabilities are also expected to participate in the community by assuming responsibility for their own care and, when possible, holding employment. These communities will typically rely on direct support professionals to provide guidance and assistance to cognitively disabled clients.
Direct support professional duties include assessing client needs, facilitating client care by working with other support professionals and agencies, and educating and motivating clients in their efforts to take responsibility for their own care. In some cases, the direct support professional may take on case management duties that can help clients get the kind of support that they need. This may include training the client in what is known as self-advocacy so that the client can work directly with professionals and community agencies. If the direct support professional believes that a client needs more intensive support in a particular area or areas, the support professional can begin efforts to obtain these services for his or her client.
The requirements to become a direct support professional vary by both jurisdiction and employer. In some areas, there are no particular educational requirements for those who wish to provide supportive services to the cognitively disabled, although employers may require new hires to participate in an in-house training program or even an apprenticeship. In some jurisdictions, such as the state of California, a direct support professional must complete an extensive standardized training program before he or she can work in a residential care setting. Other areas may require those who undertake this type of work to undergo a background check to protect vulnerable clients from abuse and exploitation.