Frontline Initiative: Direct Support Professionals Supporting People's Employment
How DSPs can Support Supervisors of Employees with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Jean Winsor, author
Effective supervision of employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) can be challenging for businesses that may not have experience in hiring people with diverse support needs. However, if done properly, it is the same as effective supervision of people without disabilities. It is important for direct support professionals (DSPs) to know how to help employers become good supervisors and provide on-the-job supports for employees with IDD. The strategies in this article are based on the experiences of supervisors and coworkers, and are intended to help DSPs support employers to mentor and support people with IDD in the workplace. For more detail, please see a summary of strategies by Kramer et al. (2013) linked in the resources below.
Supervisors can also learn from your expertise as a workplace consultant. Your ability helps them address employee performance issues and how to increase workplace efficiency by carving out or redistributing tasks based on the employee’s strengths.
Supervisors can be tremendous resources for employees with IDD, and you can help guide them in this task. Let supervisors know early on that you are here to help. During the hiring process, give examples of how you can support their efforts including: helping them to develop a task checklist, brainstorming about workplace design, supporting individualized training around specific tasks, and facilitating relationships among co-workers. Supervisors can also learn from your expertise as a workplace consultant. Your ability helps them address employee performance issues and how to increase workplace efficiency by carving out or redistributing tasks based on the employee’s strengths. Supervisors may be more committed to the employee when they know that they can rely on you for support.
Supporting the Person’s Relationships with Co-workers
You can also support the supervisor to engage the new employee to grow their relationships at work. We all have co-workers who are not our supervisors who we know we can ask for information or assistance on the job. Developing these co-worker networks is important for all employees, including employees with IDD, but some people need encouragement to reach out to their colleagues. Supervisors can encourage connections in the workplace by:
- letting the employee know where their co-workers eat lunch,
- making sure the employee is included in workday celebrations, such as birthday celebrations, and outside-of-work activities, such as the office softball team or community service, and
- letting the employee know which co-worker would be a good person to ask for help, and letting the co-worker know that they would be a good resource for the employee.
Supporting Effective Communication Skills
We all benefit from clear and consistent communication. This can be very important for the success of a worker with IDD. You can give the individual’s supervisor tips on how to use clear and consistent communication. Depending on the employee’s needs, these tips may include:
- Use short sentences that communicate one main idea.
- Use concrete, direct instructions; do not “suggest” or “imply.”
- Avoid jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations.
- Check for understanding:
- After each piece of information ask, “What is the first thing I need you to do?” Ask the employee to share their understanding of what was discussed.
- Supervisors may need to rephrase information or break a task into smaller steps. Let them know that you, as the DSP, can help them do this for the first few times, if helpful.
- Watch for body language and facial expressions. These can show whether the messages are being understood.
You have a role in not only supporting workers with IDD on the job, but also in supporting their employers to provide effective supervision. The strategies shared in this article reflect the experiences of individuals who have directly supervised employees with IDD and have supported them to be successful. While every employer and employee are different, these lessons can help anyone who supports effective supervision of workers with IDD.
Ashley’s Story: https://www.thinkwork.org/ashley-career-development-help-mentor
Service Provider Promising Practices: https://www.thinkwork.org/aie/crp
ThinkWork Stories: https://www.thinkwork.org/think-work-stories
Kramer, J., Wolfe, A., & Winsor, J. (2013). Support through mentorship: Accessible supervision of employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Institute Brief, 29. University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion. https://www.thinkwork.org/sites/thinkwork.org/files/files/Ashley_pdf.pdf