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5 Qualities of Successful Developmental Services Workers

By: Ronda Payne

Published On: March 3, 2022

Increasing populations mean that people are in need of more human services supports than ever. One of the areas on the rise is that of developmental services. In this often fast-paced, supportive role, an individual who has taken a developmental services worker program (DSW) assists individuals who have one or more disabilities.

Because of their unique training, a DSW is able to bring about a more fulfilling, independent and integrated life to those who have physical, behavioural, cognitive and/or psychological disabilities. Not only does this ensure the individual has the tools they need to live their best life, it also takes pressure off of that person’s family. Bringing support through a DSW into disabled person’s life can subsequently enrich their time spent with family and friends.

Becoming a DSW takes a unique set of skills that not everyone has. If you’re wondering if taking a DSW program and growing into the field is right for you, see if you identify with these five skills:

1. Patience

More than a virtue, in this job, patience is mandatory. Individuals who are dealing with a disability (or disabilities) deserve a patient support system that allows them to learn and proceed in their own unique way and at their own pace. That isn’t to say that a DSW isn’t going to challenge those they work with to try new things! Exactly the opposite.

By introducing options and choices, DSWs expose those they work with to different ways of looking at the world around them and trying new things. Those new things don’t always go as planned (sometimes the old things don’t go as planned either!) and not all individuals progress at the same rate. A technique that worked well with one individual may not be successful with another. Bringing patience to the relationship ensures the setbacks, outbursts and refusals are taken in stride and don’t derail ongoing progress and enrichment. When a little extra time is required to help someone achieve a breakthrough moment, DSWs see that opportunity and attempt to make the breakthrough happen.

2. Time management/organizational skills

Working with people comes with a need to prioritize tasks based on plans, long-term goals, short-term goals and immediate needs. These factors often conflict, and flexibility may be the key word here. When what you had intended for the day needs to change based on an immediate need, you must be flexible and take care of the urgent things while restructuring your day or week.

Alternatively, new priorities can arise based on something a client has noted or done. Progress in one area may mean stepping away from the intended plan in favour of another focus. Or, family and friends may have a desire for you to explore something specific in terms of the individual’s development plan that has a timeline or a deadline. For example, the family may want to go on a vacation and want to prepare their loved one for what a plane is like.

Regardless of whether you work with one individual, a handful or a large group, your priorities will regularly shift based on the individuals you work with, their families and friends and your employer. You’ll need to use the patience noted in point number one to reconsider what is most important in the moment and how to reorder the other tasks.

3. Great communicator

Being a good communicator isn’t just about being able to speak, read and write. Listening to both what is said and what isn’t is essential as is picking up on non-verbal messages. Many individuals with disabilities can have challenges speaking about what they are feeling. Your job will be to get to know them and begin to learn their specific language.

You’ll also need to make use of those traditional communication skills in order to complete necessary paperwork, provide updates to your employer and keep family and friends aware of developments. Communication is the necessary element to knowing when priorities need to shift and change and to assess how tools are working.

4. Attention to detail

Is David’s shoelace untied because he didn’t want to tie it or did it simply come untied? Is Amber not speaking up in group because she still feels like the new person or could it be a hearing issue? Is Landon clenching his fists because he’s uncomfortable or because he’s mad? As noted in point number three, there’s more to communication than words. As a DSW, you need to spot the small details that can be clues to an individual’s situation.

By being aware of even the smallest details, you may gain insight into how someone is feeling without them vocalising it. These subtle cues may confirm something you suspect or they may lead you down a new road of exploration with the individual you work with. Not all things you spot will have meaning, but being aware and putting information together will help you identify when there is something to pay attention to.

5. Genuine interest in people with disabilities and inclusivity

The importance of a DSW’s job is that they want to remove barriers for those they work with. They want to see individuals thrive and make the most of their life. Sometimes the disabilities are invisible to the average person, such as an addiction, hearing impairment, chronic pain condition or a learning disability. Other disabilities are more obvious. Your desire must be to see individuals excel in life regardless of what they face and how some people in the world may see them.

In essence, a DSW helps to build a person’s confidence and skills so that they can do more than they thought possible and be able to overcome the setbacks that will come at them. If you believe that all people share equal footing on this planet and have great gifts to share with others, becoming a DSW will allow you to help those individuals share their gifts in ways that bring pride and pleasure.

According to Easter Seals Canada, more than 6.2 million Canadians age 15 and over live with at least one form of disability. That’s more than one fifth of the population. If children under 15 are considered, obviously the number is much higher. This means there is a constant demand for people to work as Developmental Services Workers.



The information contained in this post is considered true and accurate as of the publication date. However, the accuracy of this information may be impacted by changes in circumstances that occur after the time of publication. Ashton College assumes no liability for any error or omissions in the information contained in this post or any other post in our blog


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