Frontline Initiative Healthcare

The many roles of DSPs in the healthcare of people they support


Amanda Bruneau is a DSP in Adrian, Michigan and currently a full time RN student. She is also the mother of a 12-year-old daughter.

Michael Bray, MA is a Research Assistant at the Developmental Disabilities Institute (DDI) at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Many DSPs help the individuals they support access important healthcare services. Their role is critical in connecting the people they support with healthcare professionals. DSPs are with the people they support daily. DSPs likely understand individuals’ health histories, behavioral cues, and medication use. They can also model treating people with disabilities with dignity and respect in a healthcare setting. 

Amanda Bruneau is a DSP working at Renaissance Community Homes for adults with developmental disabilities in Lenawee County, Michigan. Amanda has been a DSP since 2001 and has also held manager and program manager positions. She is currently working toward her RN degree and also works for a local nursing home.

Amanda has accompanied many of the people she’s supported over the years to doctors visits. She says that her primary role in these visits has been that of an advocate. She describes, “Many people I support may know when they aren’t feeling well. But they have difficultly clearly communicating this to the healthcare providers. That’s when I can step in. I can provide observations from the home staff such as frequency of coughing or apparent energy levels.” Amanda also helps the people she supports by providing healthcare providers with records of medications and previous vital signs.  

Amanda believes that, “During a healthcare appointment, DSPs should make sure that the individuals they support are being heard. It is also important that the healthcare professional has enough information to make good decisions regarding care.” By promoting self-advocacy and providing relevant healthcare information, DSPs can ensure that the individuals they support receive the proper healthcare they need.

Amanda has faced several challenges while supporting individuals in a healthcare context. Some of the challenges include completing paperwork and making sure that prescriptions are correctly filled. Amanda has also experienced being ignored or overly focused on by healthcare providers. Amanda uses different strategies to de-escalate situations when the people she supports are waiting to be seen. She shares, “Some people have a hard time sitting for thirty minutes to an hour in a crowded waiting room. I’ve supported many individuals who will pace the room or switch seats often. This always draws attention from the other patients in the waiting room. I try to redirect the individual or let the receptionist know we are stepping out for a few minutes to get some fresh air.” Some important lessons that Amanda has learned include —

  • Try to schedule appointment times that work best for the person being supported. Ask the individual when he or she would like to set up the appointment and be respectful of his or her preferred daily routines and schedules.

  • Be prepared for the appointment. Bring a folder with necessary medical history information and documentation. This could include a list of current medications or sleep patterns.

  • Prepare the individual ahead of time for the appointment. Explain what will happen, who the doctor/healthcare provider is, and how long the visit might take.

  • Have a plan. If the person you are supporting is experiencing difficulties with waiting, have things with you that you know they enjoy doing. It might also be helpful to identify the nearest exit where you can both go for a quick break.

  • Remain calm! This is the number one rule for any DSP. The person you support and the healthcare providers will read your cues and body language. Try to stay composed and relaxed.