DSP Certification Executive Summary


It is estimated that more than a million people in the US have a dual diagnosis of Intellectual or Development Disability and Mental Illness (IDD/MI). Many people with IDD/MI are supported in our communities by direct support professionals (DSPs).  People with IDD/MI who live in institutions are also supported by DSPs.  DSPs support people at home. They may also support people in school and at work.

Very often people with IDD/MI have complex needs. They may have difficulty with their behavior. They may have difficulty communicating with staff and others. Describing and managing the symptoms of their mental illness may be very challenging for them.  As a result, people with this dual diagnosis are at increased risk of being given unnecessary medication. They are more likely to have their rights restricted and to experience restraints. They may struggle to have good relationships. They are at increased risk for abuse and neglect. Helping a person with these needs successfully learn to manage their behavior or achieve a personal goal can be among the most rewarding activities a DSP will ever experience.

In general, DSPs spend more time with the person with IDD/MI than any other professional. The competence of the DSP can make a big difference in the quality of life for people. DSPs are often the ones charged with supporting skill building. They help the person engage in recommended therapies on a day-to-day basis.  This work requires an advanced level of skill and knowledge to do well. However, there is little available to guide DSPs and others in identifying the specific competencies a DSP should have for this work. As a result, many DSPs are under-qualified. Too often, they lack the support and training to do well. This lack of standards can make finding, hiring, training, and retaining qualified DSPs difficult. As a result, many people with IDD/MI do not have adequate daily support. 

NADD Certification

NADD has developed a program to certify the competency of DSPs who support people with a dual diagnosis.  DSP certification validates and provides assurance to individuals served, colleagues, and employers that a direct support professional has met the standards established by NADD for providing services to individuals with IDD/MI.  In addition to the prestige this certification provides, it may benefit the DSP through greater employment opportunities, job security, pay raises, and promotions.  The certification is portable; DSPs moving to a different region bring their certifications with them and do not have to demonstrate or re-document their competence simply because they have moved. 

The goal of DSP certification through the NADD Competency-Based Certification Program is to improve the quality and effectiveness of services provided to individuals with a dual diagnosis  through the development of competency-based standards for Direct Support Professionals and through promoting their ongoing professional development.


In order to be considered for certification, the applicant must meet the following requirementss:  

  • NADD Membership: applicant must receive Member Benefits through individual membership or as an employee of a Member Organization
  • Application Fee: applicant must pay the certification fee
  • Work experience: applicant must have 1 year of experience working as a DSP in the developmental disability or mental health field, in addition to 1,000 hours of direct support work
  • References: applicants must submit two completed recommendations before certification will be granted: one from a current or most recent supervisor, and the other from a person receiving services from the applicant, or that person’s family or representative.

The application will be completed online, where applicants will list their work experience, formal education, and sign off on the code of ethics.

Certification Exam & Core Competencies

Once the application has been completed, submitted and approved the applicant will be given instructions and credentials for taking the exam.  

The exam is completed online and in the form of a multiple choice test in which applicants are provided with scenarios involving work with individuals with a dual diagnosis, and asked questions that will show their skills, knowledge, and values involving caring for individuals with a dual diagnosis. 

Applicants must demonstrate competency in the following five areas:

  • Assessment and Observation
  • Behavior Support
  • Crisis Prevention and Intervention
  • Health and Wellness
  • Community Collaboration and Teamwork

Applicants must have a score minimum of 75% in each of the five competency areas.

Direct Support Professionals  who receive NADD certification will be entitled to use “NADD-DSP” as a credential


The cost of DSP Certification is payable in the form of a non-refundable application/exam fee, as follows: 

  • $50 for employees of a NADD-Accredited organization
  • $75 for employees of an organization that is not NADD-Accredited

Renewal cost is as follows:

  • $25 for employees of a NADD-Accredited organization
  • $40 for employees of an organization that is not NADD-Accredited

DSP Certification is valid for two years.