Why did you choose to provide direct support to people with disabilities? Do you have a family member with disabilities or did you find a source of inspiration elsewhere?
Minutes after I was born, a neonatal doctor gave me the best Apgar score possible, a ten. After the second Apgar test, he changed that score to a one. Instead of going home, I was loaded onto an ambulance and raced to the closest brain surgeon. Complications during my birth had caused a vein break in my brain. Somehow, without causing any lifelong neurological or physical damage, the surgeon managed to evacuate the blood in my temporal lobe, before it spread to the rest of my brain.
For multiple reasons, I felt and still feel extremely lucky to have come out of the surgery unscathed. Therefore, I always felt compelled to give back and pay it forward somehow to people that weren’t so lucky either at birth or because of an accident. When I was 12, I got my first experience and opportunity to pay it forward by providing direct support when I was asked to speak and interact with a seven year old with autism at his home that went to the same school as my sister. His mother saw the two of us making conversation one day and rarely ever saw him talk to anyone, period. After my mom dropped me off, we picked up right where we left off. In a supervised setting, it felt very rewarding putting a smile on his face and a better sense of what friendship means simply by spending time with him and acting as if his autism didn’t exist. Even though that was the only time I interacted with him outside of school grounds, I wanted to continue doing that kind of work but didn’t provide direct support in a different setting until I was in my final semester of High School.
In order to graduate, I had to acquire one more elective and I suddenly saw an opportunity to pay it forward again and provide direct support to other students with special needs and after graduating, I did not regret my decision. For the rest of the Spring semester, I helped students with a range of tasks, including cooking meals, writing checks, budgeting and grocery shopping, etc. I felt very humbled how simple, every day tasks were very easy for me but very difficult for my fellow peers with disabilities, especially when at the end of the day my peers had no choice in their level of functioning. Despite that, it didn’t take me long to realize that people with disabilities, no matter what level of functioning, are some of the hardest working people in the world and my fellow students that I supported were no exception.
In 2016, I acquired the official job title of a Direct Support Professional my Junior year of College. A gym friend of mine worked home supports and so I asked for a referral and paid it forward by helping individuals with severe mental disabilities perform ADLs (Active Daily Living) Skills primarily inside the home and sometimes in the community. Myself, along with 2-3 other employees would assist two young men in their twenties get dressed, make the bed, eat, go to the bathroom, take their medication, exercise, etc. the two men were also aggressive at times, attempting to inflict harm amongst others and themselves. It was an eye opening experience to see the negative side effects of medication, isolation, and the inability to communicate. I felt a great sense of empathy towards the two men and did not allow their aggression deter me from helping them live as positive and productive a lifestyle as possible. After working in home supports for 9 months, in the Summer of 2017, I primarily transitioned to providing Direct Support in the community program with a different company.
The main purpose of most community programs within social service agencies are to help individuals with disabilities become or improve their role as an active contributor in their community and improve positivity levels and overall well-being. After assisting individuals with ADLs at home, I switched companies and began providing community supports to 2-3 individuals at a time and it turned out to be my favorite part of the job. As much as I enjoyed providing home supports, nothing made me happier than seeing a big smile on an individual’s face after they received a job offer after weeks of mock interviews or simply made conversation with a stranger during lunch after days of practicing different scenarios and role playing. That big smile and those small accomplishments could be the motivation an individual with disabilities needs in order to accomplish their larger goals overall, paying it forward one way or another.
So why did you choose to be a DSP? Feel free to share your story below. Thanks for reading!
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