Direct Care Staff / Aides for the Developmentally Disabled

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    Direct care staff persons, also known as aides for the intellectually disabled, may disputably be the most important types of workers in the lives of the patient populations whom they serve because they provide all of the personal care for their developmentally disabled clients.

    Direct Care Staff / Aides for the Developmentally Disabled

    Developmental disabilities nursing is an often-overlooked specialty in need of tolerant employees who can provide sensitive care and patiently keep up with the various challenges that are unique to clients with mental retardation. Four degrees of mental retardation exist: mild, moderate, severe and profound. Direct care staff, also known as aides for the intellectually disabled, might be the most significant type of workers in the lives of the clients whom they serve.


    In the developmental disabilities industry, direct care staff members are the employees who attend to the most basic needs of clients who have the varying degrees of mental retardation that were previously listed. Direct care staff persons help maintain the smooth operation of the facilities that shelter intellectually disabled clients through the provision of essential care such as oral care, bathing, showering, incontinent care, toileting, dressing, meal preparation, feeding, hydration, transfers and other activities of daily living.

    Due to working in homelike settings such as group homes and apartments, many direct care staff members also perform light housekeeping tasks on occasion such as doing laundry, making beds, washing dishes, sweeping, mopping floors, vacuuming carpets, and disinfecting countertops. Some direct care staff persons accompany the clients to their day programs and field trips, while others might be required to use company vehicles to drive clients to and from various appointments from time to time. Many companies allow direct care staff members to pass oral and ophthalmic medications to clients after having undergone specified training. Direct care staff persons sometimes play games, eat meals and watch television with their clients.

    Work Environment

    Direct care staff members typically work in climate-controlled settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, state hospitals, and day program centers. Many of these workplace settings require 24-hour staffing, so some direct care staff persons work days, evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. Heavy lifting may be required because immobile clients will be unable to transfer themselves from the bed to a wheelchair. Contact with blood, urine, feces and other bodily substances might occur; however, the risk can be minimized through proper use of personal protective equipment when providing the types of direct care that are likely to result in exposure.

    Educational Requirements

    The duties and responsibilities of direct care staff members can be learned through on-the-job training. Most companies will require candidates to have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. A handful of organizations prefer that applicants possess a CNA (certified nursing assistant) certificate and previous healthcare experience in a direct care role.

    Personal Attributes

    Ideally, direct care staff members should be patient, calm and able to deal with intellectually disabled clients who might display problematic behavioral issues at times. Direct care staff members should also exhibit a tolerant attitude toward unpleasant sights and smells. In addition, the ability to multi-task and learn quickly will serve direct care staff persons well.


    According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the May 2010 median pay of direct care staff persons employed at residential mental retardation facilities was $23,360 annually.


    Feeling the Strain: Job Stress and Satisfaction of Direct-Care Staff in the Mental Handicap Service (pdf)
    Direct Care Staff Training: Training Overview
    Psychiatric Technicians and Aides : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
    Last edit by Joe V on Jan 11, '15
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  3. Visit  ShelbyaStar profile page
    I am a DSP working on my prereqs for nursing school. Once I have my CNA I will do that instead, but for the time being I thought this was a great way to see if I could handle healthcare. I do believe it pays slightly more than CNAs in this area, and I also am getting experience passing meds.

    The house I work in has a variety of patients. One is high care needs, one only needs a little bit of support, one is verbally aggressive and one is physically aggressive. Most houses are a bit more homogenous than that. Usually if you are in high care you get paid a little more, and definitely if you are in a house with a lot of physical behaviors.

    In any case it's worked out well for me. The scheduling has been pretty flexible (since starting school I dropped to being fill in but have no shortage of shifts to pick up) and if something at one house isn't working out I can transfer to another. It's great experience and it's been rewarding. It gave me a lot of insight not only to health care but mental as well.
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