Competency in the Time of Coronavirus by Dan Hermreck

When the NADSP staff have an opportunity to speak to direct support professionals (DSP) around the country, one of our key messages is that DSPs are highly skilled professionals. The NADSP Competency Areas describe a set of professional skills that DSPs use in their work each and every day. Those same skills will also be needed, although possibly used in new and different ways, during the current COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog post, I wanted to highlight some of these competency areas and how they might come into play in our current circumstances.

Supporting Health and Wellness

Obviously, this one is pretty important right now. DSPs will be working hard to maintain the health and safety of the people they are supporting during this pandemic. They will be reminding people about the importance of handwashing, teaching how to cover a cough or sneeze, and helping people to understand the rules of social distancing.

Community Living Skills and Supports

This competency area is mostly about things that happen at home. During this pandemic, many people supported by DSPs will be spending more time at home. That extra time at home can be an opportunity to develop new skills and to pursue interests. This competency also covers some skills related to cleanliness, which is definitely taking on added importance right now. DSPs can ask people what they would like to do with their extra time at home, and work in partnership with people to help them to manage and maintain their home.


The people being supported by DSPs will be communicating during this pandemic. They may be communicating about being bored, or anxious, or about not feeling well. This communication might be through words, or gestures, facial expressions, or through other types of behavior. In some cases, this communication will be straightforward and easily understood. In other cases the messages being sent might be unnoticed or misunderstood without a DSP using their knowledge of the person and their skills in this competency area. Skilled DSPs are always good listeners, and they will be relying on that skill a great deal during this pandemic.


If Communication is focused on listening, then the related skill of Assessment is focused on observation. Assessment does not have to be a formal process, and a skilled DSP is likely to be a master of informal assessment, noticing whenever “something’s not quite right”. A report from a DSP often starts a process that allows other professionals (such as nurses and doctors) to conduct more formal assessments of the person. DSPs will need to be especially observant during this time, noting any symptoms that may be related to COVID-19 and passing that information along according to their organization’s response plans.

Community and Service Networking

The DSP’s office is the community, and that office is changing rapidly right now. Community resources that DSPs and those they support have relied on may be unavailable right now, and other temporary resources may appear. DSPs will need to maintain awareness of the resources that can be currently found in the community. DSPs may also find themselves searching for alternative or online approaches to accessing community resources.

Facilitation of Services

This competency area is all about working in collaboration with those that you support; making plans with people, rather than making plans for people. In a crisis, it can be tempting to take charge and start making every decision yourself, but doing so can lead to power struggles that add stress to an already stressful situation. Skilled DSPs will look for opportunities to make decisions in partnership with the people they support, and find ways to give people some control over their lives, even in this difficult time.

Building and Maintaining Friendships and Relationships

Humans are social creatures, and relationships are something that we all need. Maintaining these valued relationships during a time of social distancing will require creativity. Skilled DSPs across the country will be finding ways to help people stay in touch and share experiences (often using technology), even when they cannot meet in person.

Crisis Prevention and Intervention

People are worried and anxious right now. These increased stress levels can have an impact on our behavior. Those “antecedents” that were merely irritating a few weeks ago might seem overwhelming and intolerable now. This is true for both DSPs and the people they support. Through reflection and self-care strategies, DSPs will work to manage their own stress levels as best they can in this difficult time. Through their assessment and communication skills DSPs will be preventing many potential crises. When a crisis does happen, DSPs will look for ways to intervene that maximize everyone’s safety.

So just to wrap things up, if you have been working as a direct support professional for any length of time, these are skills you have been using and developing every day. These same skills will serve you well as you support people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you to all the Direct Support Professionals who are working during this national crisis. Please take care of yourselves. You are essential, and you are highly skilled professionals.

Looking for resources during the COVID-19 pandemic? Click the links below for more information.

Self Care Toolkit for DSPs – click here

On-boarding New DSPs Resources for Providers – Click here