Are You an Encourager or an Enabler?


By Carole Richards


Our company works with many students with disabilities.  (Click here to learn about our special education services.)  It is fascinating to see how some of our students are very independent and others extremely dependent on their parents or others.

Our Encourager Families

For example, we had a camper who weighed just 1 pound 2 ounces at birth.  She attended our Academic Fun & Fitness Camp for a number of years.  Fast forward to her teen years … she became a junior counselor.  She interviewed for the position and was a hard worker at camp.

Another former student with significant disabilities holds a full-time job.  He lives independently and only requires a little job coaching and tutoring support related to life skills for his job and life.

One family has been our client for 22 years (no, that isn’t a typo).  The daughter has limited ability but with the help of our tutor/job coach, she has held a full-time job and lives independently.


Our Enabler Families

Some of our clients are treated as fragile therapy consumers. One of our clients threatened to throw herself down a stairway if she was forced to do something related to school.  The parent relented and the child did not do the task.

Parents will tell me, “My child is so upset, I can’t ask him to do his math paper.”  Or, “He was traumatized by what a neighbor said to him.”

Albert Einstein said, “We only use 10% of our innate intelligence.” I work with our clients with that idea in mind.  Whether your IQ is 40 or 140; whether I have two hands or one; or whether I have anxiety, or I am calm.

Einstein Quote

Encourager and Enabler – What’s the Difference?

The difference between the Encourager and Enabler Families is their “reaction” to situations.  The Encourager helps the child believe he or she can go beyond their disabilities with limitless potential.  The Enabler says, “Poor baby, you can’t do that because of your disability.”

Take this Encourager/Enabler concept one step further.  Children without disabilities can become fragile as well.  Bright children with no disabilities can be treated like they are fragile.  They are made to believe if they fall, they might get hurt.  If they fail a test, they are dumb.  At the same time, an average child could be told he or she could do anything, and they do.

My mother encouraged me to do things I wanted to do.  I sold pot holders in my neighborhood at age seven.  I started a ballet studio in our basement at thirteen.  And then I took a job as a waitress away from home at sixteen.  I went to Hawaii on my own for the entire summer at age twenty.  My mom made me believe I could do anything!

I’ve been told I am “tenacious.”  I call myself a “junkyard dog.”  I am proud of these nicknames.  You should encourage your children to be all they can be.  Please do not enable your child to become a fragile therapy consumer.


Carole Richards is president of North Coast Tutoring Services, president/director of the Academic Fun & Fitness Camp at Lakeland Community College, and author of Richards Learning Systems®.  She is a frequent guest on radio and TV.  She can be reached at

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Dave Hoffman