To the editor:
Dear Direct Support Professional,
National Recognition Week for Direct Support Professionals is quickly approaching (September 12-18, 2021), and while we’re grateful for you all year long, this official celebration of you and your colleagues carves out an opportunity for a great big public “thank you” and a chance to give you a collective round of applause. And not to sound overly cliche, but “now, more than ever,” you deserve it - in a big, big way. The industry-wide staffing shortage has created unprecedented challenges for all of you at a time that is already fraught with pandemic-related difficulties. Your unfailing dedication to your work has been especially remarkable over the past year-plus. I want you to know that it has not gone unnoticed.
I know that caring for people with special needs requires passion, insight, empathy, and physical and emotional energy that far exceed what most jobs require. You make it all look so easy - how do you do it? I’ve given that some thought, and wonder if it’s because of the fact that for many DSPs like yourself, this is all clearly more than a job - it’s your life’s work. I see it come through all the time at Anderson Center for Autism; there are countless examples that speak to your deep devotion to enriching the quality of life for the people we serve. For example, you remain incredibly patient when one of the residents you care for is struggling to communicate what he or she most wants or needs. You persevere and stay positive when you’re teaching a new skill to someone who has motor planning deficits. You demonstrate unwavering compassion when one of the students is experiencing sensory overload. You listen deeply for understanding when a family member is sharing ideas for how to make the residential environment you manage more well-suited to the needs of his or her child.
And your work ethic is extraordinary. You say “yes” to going above and beyond. When a colleague falls ill and cannot make a shift, you enthusiastically offer to stay overnight. When residents express an interest in doing something outside of what had been planned for that day, you pivot and change course with a smile. When a teacher or therapist or parent needs your feedback, you hop on the call or head right to the meeting even if it means balancing that new request with other responsibilities. When a resident’s family member plans a visit, you do all you can to make it special for everyone involved so that happy memories can be created. And when a challenge presents itself, you embrace it as an opportunity to grow and learn.
You work so hard and with such heart to enrich life for others, and you’ve prevailed even as we’ve been short-staffed and you’ve had to face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Thank you for your steadfast devotion. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
On behalf of everyone who benefits from the goodness of direct support professionals everywhere, but especially people like you who work with us at Anderson Center for Autism, thank you for being you.
Patrick Paul is the CEO/Executive Director of Anderson Center for Autism, located in Staatsburg, whose organizational mission is to “optimize the quality of life for people with autism.” Visit andersoncenterforautism.org.