Frontline Initiative Complex Needs

The Change That Made a Difference


Pat Latshaw is a DSP for Bradley/ Cleveland Services in Cleveland, Tennessee

When I began to work as a Direct Support Professional three and a half years ago, I had been doing in-home supports for 15 years. I was ready for a change. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, I knew I could get a job in a hospital or nursing home, but that wasn’t what I wanted. A friend of mine, who is a nurse, happened to be working at a group home for people with developmental disabilities. She knew I was looking for a change and encouraged me to apply for a job where she was working.

I went to work in a home where six women lived. They had come from an institution about three months before I started there. None of the women communicated verbally, and two used wheelchairs. My job included preparing meals, helping the women eat, modeling appropriate table manners, supporting positive behaviors, and seeing to their daily wants and needs. 

When I started working there, the women often displayed challenging behaviors — head banging, screaming, hair pulling, and attacking each other and staff, to name a few. These behaviors usually happened when things were going on that they didn’t like, and this was their way of saying it. It was hard to figure out what the problem was and correct it. I had never experienced anything like this. After being aggressed against several times, I asked myself why I was still there. I had no answer, but had no desire to leave. I felt I was there for a reason, one that I would learn about, eventually.

At first, I felt sorry for the women and wanted to do everything for them. I was the one who was making decisions whether they would take a bath or a shower, which pajamas they would wear, when they would go to bed, and even what they would watch on TV. They had little control over what went on in their lives. I soon learned that they knew a lot more than what I gave them credit for.

After I’d been there about nine months, I had the opportunity to go through the Community Rehabilitation Agencies of Tennessee Credentialing program. I was eager to learn how to make my job easier. The program offered training in many areas; a few were —

  • laws, old and new
  • medication and nutrition
  • how to look at problems differently and find new solutions, such as having the individual help solve the problem
  • the importance of the person’s vision of the future for developing his or her goals
  • how difficult change in one’s life can be and how to make transition as easy as possible
  • the importance of training new staff, since, like myself, most have little knowledge about people with disabilities

Probably the most important thing I learned was to look at who the person is, what he or she can do, and to look for the positive rather than negative. When I tried all of the things I'd learned, like letting the women make choices in their daily activities, I realized that this gave control back to them. They became less dependent on staff and their challenging behaviors decreased. I realized that all along they had no problem understanding what I was trying to convey to them, but that I was the one with the problem of not understanding what they were trying to convey to me.

Since participating in the credentialing program, my job has gotten easier. I have a much better understanding of the people I support and no longer feel sorry for them. They have taught me how to communicate with them and what their world is like outside the group home. I have learned how to be more calm and how to see the beauty in the simple things in life. They have taught me more than I could ever teach them. They have become my teachers. I now know why I am there. I am there to learn.