What is the Difference Between Help and Support?

Today’s guest blogger is Peg Grafwallner, M.Ed., introduced to us by Bob Glowacki, CEO of Easterseals Southeast Wisconsin. Peg is an Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist in Milwaukee, as well as a blogger, author, and national presenter. 

A blue, circle sign with a parent holding the hand of a child.I am an Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large urban high school.

I am also Ani’s mom.

Ani is autistic and intellectually disabled. According to the National Autism Center, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social interactions and social communication and by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.” If you ask Ani what autism is, she’ll tell you she gets confused.

I brought Ani home from a Bulgarian orphanage when she was five years, 11 months. Her mind and body suffered greatly. She weighed 23 lbs., had no language, was not potty trained, and focused on bizarre hand movements. It was clear she had had no mental or physical stimulation. When I met her for the first time, she sat under a shelf and rocked back and forth – endlessly.

But the one thing that kept going, that never diminished was her spirit. Through all of the heart-wrenching sorrow within the first several years of her life, she has kept her indomitable spirit.

As a parent of a Special Needs child and as a teacher in a large urban school district, I have a unique perspective. I see many parents who “help” their children and as a result, they do their children a great disservice. They immediately fly into the “I don’t want to see you suffer, so I will gladly do this for you” (because sometimes that’s what “help” looks like) mode every time they smell calamity or perceive that things have become too “hard.” Heaven forbid life gets tough.

Instead of helping, let’s focus on support. There is a difference.

What does help look like and what does support look like when we are talking about my Ani or perhaps, other special education students?

It looks like it does for any other kid.

First, don’t feel sorry for Ani. She’ll never need your sympathy and she’ll never need your help. She’ll need your support. As an example, at home, we could give Ani the space and time to practice a skill. At school, however, Ani was the only student that required assistance and time was of the essence so there might not have been the luxury of practice. Therefore, I would ask Ani’s teachers what specific skill they were working on at school that we could practice at home. Sometimes, Ani would practice using a scissors cutting along thick, black lines; sometimes she would trace shapes to practice holding a pencil. Whatever it was, it had to be simplistic and basic – something that wouldn’t cause anxiety or a loss of patience for mother or daughter.

Second, there’s your way and Ani’s way. It will probably never look the same, and that has to be okay. When Ani was about 10 years old, Max, her brother, asked her to make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for him to eat after the football game. As he sat on the bus, eager to eat his snack, he opened the bag and took out one of the sandwiches. He took a big bite and stopped. Peanut butter, no jelly. Ani had made a peanut butter sandwich. He took out the other one and opened the two slices of bread. Sure enough, jelly. Ani had indeed made two peanut butter AND jelly sandwiches, her way. To this day, that incident remains one of his favorite high school memories. His friends noticed what happened and laughed good-naturedly.

Finally, and most important of all, have high expectations for any child – including mine. At the beginning of third grade, Ani had learned to tie her shoes. However, I neglected to tell her teacher. One day, I picked her up from school and her teacher thanked me for teaching Ani how to tie her shoes.

Apparently, Ani would go up to her teacher or some unsuspecting classmate, stick her foot out with untied laces and look forlorn (another way to ask for help!). The naive innocent would bend over and tie Ani’s shoes. When the teacher told me what Ani had done, I almost burst my buttons with pride. My daughter, the one who couldn’t cut a straight line with a pair of scissors, who couldn’t trace the shapes on the paper, who couldn’t regulate her finger movements had manipulated them all. Instead of the teacher and her classmates supporting her, they helped her and she took full advantage of it.

So what does this tell us? Support her as you would support any other child. Don’t do it for her and don’t feel sorry for her. She might surprise you. Ani’s way works for her. It might take time and you might do it differently. But, that has to be okay. Finally, remember even though she might be labeled “special needs,” she is as special as any other child – with all the manipulative behavior that all of us own.

Ani is an inspirational, intelligent and involved young woman. She is a star athlete immersed with Special Olympics and is one of the Wisconsin Ambassadors for Best Buddies. Today, she is a lab technician at our local pediatric hospital. Her warm personality and honest disposition are genuine and true. She is no longer the “little orphan” that I brought home from Bulgaria 16 years ago; on the contrary, she is a mover and shaker who continues to surprise us and those around her on a daily basis.

I remember many years ago bemoaning Ani’s future. How would it look? What would she do? Who could I count on? Ani’s art teacher, a special needs parent herself, encouraged me to take one day at a time and that when the time came, I could rely on the “natural support” within the community. She was right. The natural support has revealed itself at Ani’s work, in Ani’s social life, and in Ani’s hobbies. And the expectations remain high.

Read the original article from Peg here

Visit Peg’s website to learn more


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  1. Amarillo Says:

    Supporting someone is being entirely devoted to them every step of the journey while enabling them to do their part in making any required changes. … When we help somebody, we cross the line and invade the other person’s space in an attempt to bring them to the bar.

  2. Kadan Says:

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  9. Remove popcorn Says:

    To assist is defined as “to provide assistance and make it simpler for someone to do something by offering one’s services or resources, or to benefit.” To support means “to give acceptance, comfort, and encouragement, or to be capable of sustaining.”

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    Help is when you provide something or even say just to help a friend who needs someone to lean on. And support is like supporting someone whether she likes it or not.

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  21. Alexa Cruise Says:

    Thank you so much for making it clear to us! Now I fully understand the difference between the two.


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  25. John Says:

    To Help is , “to provide assistance and make it easier for someone to do something by offering one’s services or resources, or to be of benefit to”. To Support is, “to provide assistance by giving approval, comfort and encouragement, or being capable of sustaining”.

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    It was clear she had had no mental or physical stimulation.

  28. Crystal White Says:

    Bravo! My heart is for the parents who loves their children with special needs with all their hearts.


  29. Brielle Luna Says:

    My son also shows some signs of autism but we haven’t had him checked by a dev ped yet. I am working so hard to reverse it as much as I can. Your story of persistence has inspired me to be more patient with my son and I thank you for that.

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  30. ag lime near me Says:

    Supporting someone is being fully committed to a person every step of the way, whilst allowing them to do their part in terms of making any changes necessary. Supporting another empowers them, as it comes from connecting to another as an equal and understanding that they have the power within them to rise above whatever is challenging them.


  31. Get a Consultation Says:

    To Help is, “to provide assistance and make it easier for someone to do something by offering one’s services or resources, or to be of benefit to”. To Support is, “to provide assistance by giving approval, comfort, and encouragement, or being capable of sustaining


  32. Madel Smith Says:

    Whenever I read about this topic I feel that I’m really blessed, want to help people, and always be kind.


  33. Telehealth Says:

    Support means that if someone is nervous and not do that thing properly so we encourage them it is called support.

  34. Dan Pimen Says:

    However, what if we considered there is an important difference between supporting someone and helping them? The most obvious symptom related to helping another is feeling in any way drained, depleted or exhausted afterwards.

  35. Hunktv Says:

    Help means that someone can not do something and we are standing near him if we explain or guide that how to do it is called help .

    Example : My small brother don’t know an answer so I helped him.

    Support means that if someone is nervous and not do that thing properly so we encourage them it is called support .

    Example: When my small sister have to speak a speech to 100 people ,she was nervous so I supported .

  36. Susan Says:

    That’s all nice talk, but the reality is, here in Tucson, Easterseals cater to those who have never & have no intention of ever working for a living. I have since I was 12, and never asked for anything. I served twenty years in the armed forces, and now in jeopardy of being homeless, but I can’t get any help from Easterseals. What’s the big idea? And all of your loud advertising is a lie.

  37. Helen jones Says:

    I need information on how to seek help for my son. Can someone send me phone number and locations to Easter Seals of Georgia?

  38. Caren Says:

    Nobody responded to Julia Fernberg. I’m not sure how these blogs work, but, Julia, if you’re still reading, I’m so sorry I don’t have any info to help you, but I hear you, and for what it’s worth, I care and am very sorry for your situation.

  39. Beth Finke Says:

    Thank you for reaching out to us, Diane. I have forwarded your comments to our Information And Referral Department, and they will contact you personally to find out more about your location and what might help.

  40. Diane Rowlands Says:

    I have a hearing disability and want information about aides from easterseals.

  41. Eva Harder Says:

    Hi there,

    I’m a writer and editor at America’s Promise Alliance. We’d love to repost this on our site–could we get your permission if we include a link back to this page?




  43. Ashley Large Says:

    i really like this! I have a disability and work as a Rehabilitation Counselor. I look at needing support as empowering a person! Personally I dislike the term “taking care of”. With the right supports a person can accomplish goals that their disability may make impossible.

  44. Peg Grafwallner Says:

    Thank you, Angela! Our children will continue to inspire, innovate and ignite the world around them!

  45. Peg Grafwallner Says:

    Thank you, Angela, for your kind words. Our children will continue to inspire, innovate and ignite those around them!


    Brave mom! Well done job with your Daughter.
    You are an amazing person. I have a disabled son and I am absolutely agree with what you said.
    My son could not eat by his own and today he can do it himself supporting him and not helping him.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

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