Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics

Supporting Robert in Self-Directed Services


James Kennelly is a direct support professional in Larksville, Pennsylvania. James can be reached at

Two men pose in front of a white background. The man on the left is wearing a black hat and a dark blue jacket, and he is smiling and looking up. The man on the right is wearing a yellow t-shirt and glasses, and he is smiling at the camera.

As a person supported and a DSP, Robert and James have a great relationship.

I am a support service professional (SSP), sometimes referred to as a direct support professional (DSP), working for and with a 36-year-old man, Robert Z. Robert self-directs his services. He uses the Participant Directed Services model to manage his services where he lives in Pennsylvania. Robert selects, hires, and manages his staff to assist him. I am one of six SSPs who work for and with Robert.

As an SSP, I assist Robert in his daily planning and decisions to accomplish his work tasks and any leisure activities that he enjoys. We look at his Google Calendar to see what needs to be done on a given day and then plan for any meetings, medical appointments, or activities he would enjoy doing.

Although Robert has physical challenges and is a non-traditional communicator, he is always in control of his life and decisions. He participates in all activities to the best of his ability and asks for assistance when needed. He is encouraged to do as much as he physically can and knows we are here to assist if needed.

Robert decides what he wants to accomplish each day and informs his SSP when we arrive at work. Helping Robert be as independent as possible is one of the primary roles of my position. Robert is a valuable member of our community whose voice needs to be heard. I do whatever it takes to assist him in anything he wants to do with his life and to amplify his voice when needed.

When we have down time, I share my knowledge and love of music and entertainment with him to broaden his love of music and movies. Robert loves books about horror, science fiction, nature, and history so we read books together often. We go to art galleries to increase his interest in art and this can inspire him to create his own pieces—he is a talented creative artist.

Robert knows his responsibilities at work, at home, and as a volunteer in his community. We work together to accomplish his to-do list. Sometimes he needs a break because he’s not feeling well or is having a bad day, just like everyone else. I help him communicate this to his employer and colleagues, and we reschedule his tasks to another day.

My relationship with Robert inspires me to be a better person and live life to the fullest. His abilities outweigh his disability and his simple joy of embracing life and overcoming obstacles is an inspiration to me. Assisting Robert with living his life the way he wants by providing support, assistance, and choices is a large part of what I do. I consider Robert a friend who I care deeply about, and I do what I can to help him accomplish whatever he wants in his life. He always asks me what I do when I’m not with him and he enjoys watching karaoke videos that I post on Facebook. I take pride in watching him succeed in his professional and personal life.

Robert had some medical challenges a few years ago. Because of this, I help Robert manage his physical and emotional well-being and if I notice a change in his mood, I document it to look for a pattern. I assist Robert with all his personal care needs. I help Robert follow a dietary plan due to his past medical challenges and document everything he eats. We use this to track health changes so we can intervene quickly and prevent emergencies. Robert’s health and safety are my biggest job concerns. I document his sleep patterns and teeth grinding because we have learned that changes in these indicate a possible health concern. When Robert has a headache, he will say his head hurts and when asked if he wants ibuprofen, he will respond yes. Robert also takes CBD oil which helps relieve pain. He has a reclining wheelchair that is used when his back bothers him and a pillow to support his head. By listening to Robert and knowing how he communicates, whether with his voice, actions, or eye gaze, I am able to determine what he’s asking for or what he needs to help him stay safe, healthy, and active in his community.

I was unaware of the NADSP Code of Ethics until I was asked to contribute this article. I believe that the support I provide Robert, under his guidance and supervision, supports his self-determination as well as his physical and emotional well-being. Robert self-directs and controls much of his day. We SSPs follow his lead. In situations where a person supported did not take that kind of lead, or if a DSP was trying to control the situation, the Code of Ethics would be a useful guide to help correct the way that the DSP relates to the person supported.

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