Three truths you need to know if you have kids with additional needs

28 May 2019

Mark Arnold, the Additional Needs Blogfather, shares three truths parents and carers of children with additional needs should know.

Spiritual parenting can be a journey that is difficult and confusing for any parent; it can be full of setbacks and challenging questions, fraught with the danger of us saying one thing and doing another, full of unexpected surprises, as well as being a total joy and blessing for us and our child. But throw into that mix the complications that might arise with our child having additional needs, and that’s a whole different set of issues to think about…

So, let’s make this simple, let’s think about this in three, easy to follow, ways that can help us all to take some of the anxiety, worry and uncertainty out of spiritual parenting of a child with additional needs… Here’s three truths to hold on to and to use as a foundation for whatever else we do…

Listen now

Spiritual parenting isn’t something we think about every now and then, something to bring out and dust down on Sundays but then ignore for the rest of the week. Spiritual parenting is something that we do all of the time. This is true for any parent, but can be even more the case for a parent of a child with additional needs…

It’s the little, everyday things that we do, the things that we do often, that give us the best opportunity to spiritually parent our child. Teaching them about Jesus by being Jesus to them … sharing his love with them in all the little things we do with them and for them each day.

Think about some of the things that you do for and with your child, and then think about some of the things that Jesus did to show us the way that we should live our lives, and the way that we should disciple others …

He came to serve, not to be served. So much of our time as parents of children with additional needs is spent tending to their needs, serving and supporting them. Jesus modelled this in so many ways during his ministry, and during those times that he served people he taught them too …  His example still teaches us today and helps us to teach our children …

He washed people’s feet.

He shared food with people.

He touched people who were disabled or sick.

As we wash or bathe our child, as we prepare food and help to feed our child, as we touch them and tend to them in whatever way their additional needs require, we can be Jesus to them. We can show them his love, his peace, his grace. We have a hundred opportunities a day to share the Gospel with our child through the way that we are ministering to them.

There is a saying that is widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although the evidence that he said it is weak. Either way, it’s a great thought for us… “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”  Let our actions shout the Gospel message out to our children, let them see the love of Jesus in our eyes, let them feel the touch of Jesus as we tend to them.

Nothing Is Lost

Sometimes we might wonder if any of it stays with our child though … is the faith that we share with them ‘sticky’? Does it reach them at the time, but then drift away like the morning mist on a summers breeze?

My son James (Autistic, Learning Disability, Epilepsy) has been to church ever since he was a baby. He has grown up in the church and has been exposed to the word of God throughout that time. I believe the words Paul wrote to Timothy are relevant for James, and for all of our children as we share the love of Jesus with them:

“You have known the Holy Scriptures ever since you were a little child. They are able to teach you how to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 3:15 

Recently, due to anxiety issues, James has not been to church. But in our times at home, when we pray and sing together, I truly feel that James knows he is loved by Jesus. James’ favourite song for me to sing with him is “Jesus loves me, this I know.” He is mostly non-verbal, but joins in with some of the words… The words of the first verse are (the words that James, who is mostly non-verbal, joins in with me are highlighted in bold):

Jesus loves me! This I know,

For the Bible tells me so;

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

The Bible tells me so.

Then James joins in with a loud “Amen!” at the end. I truly believe that James means every word he sings. Jesus loved Timothy, and He loves James. Just as Timothy knew and recognized that love, so does James. The light that shines from his eyes and the joy all over his face tells me that!
Nothing is lost… the love of Jesus is timeless. We sow the seeds of that love into our child a hundred times every day. Some might germinate and flower straight away before our eyes, some may come into bloom in a week, a month, a year. Some may burst into beautiful colour after we are long gone. But none of those seeds are lost, none of them are wasted. The love of Jesus that we share with our child each and every day will stay with them forever.

Give Space For God

And what those ‘spiritual seeds’, those little acts of love that we share with our child each day teach us is that it’s also not all down to us. It’s not our job alone to bring our child into a place where they respond to the love of Jesus.

It’s a team effort, involving other people that we know, reinforcing the love that we sow into our children’s hearts; the way we are with them, with each other. But we also need to give space for God to water those seeds, to let the Holy Spirit move in our child’s life. Sometimes this can be in the most unexpected way …

Jack (not his real name) was about eight years old when I met him at Spring Harvest. I was involved in overseeing the inclusion provision and I learned that he is Autistic which in his case means, for example, that he doesn’t communicate verbally but does in other ways, prefers not to be in a large noisy group of people, and can find contact with someone he doesn’t know difficult.

Although he didn’t know me, as I watched him building a tower out of Jenga blocks I saw a lot of my own son, James (then aged 13), in him.  I got down on the floor to the side of him and started to help him build the tower, which he had been struggling to build alone. At first he let me collect the blocks for him to use … 12, 13, 14 blocks …  After a while he let me hold the tower as we built it so that it didn’t fall … 20, 21, 22 blocks…  Then, with a crafty sideways glance at me out of the corner of his eye, I was given permission to help add blocks to the tower 33, 34, 35 blocks …

Despite our best efforts the tower was really wobbly by now and suddenly … Crash!!  Down it all fel …  I held my breath, looked at Jack, but he just laughed, a wonderful joy filled belly laugh of pleasure, and with another sideways glance I was invited to start to build with him again, one, two, three blocks … We built the tower, watched if fall, and built it again many times; each time it fell Jack laughed and glanced at me to start again.  It was great fun, I stayed way longer than I should have done, places I should have been were abandoned as we built the tower together …

But eventually I had to leave, and as I did so Jack carried on alone, suddenly seeming so weak and small again as he got to six or seven blocks high and it all fell down.  No joy filled belly laugh anymore, he just started over again; one, two, three …  My heart broke in pieces …

I thought a lot about Jack, whether he had gained anything at all from his time at Spring Harvest; whether he had been impacted by any of the spiritual programme in his sessions …  Had he just been child-minded, busying himself with his Jenga blocks, or had something more than that reached him?

A few days after Spring Harvest, I got the answer to my questions …  His family had got in touch with Spring Harvest to say what had happened on their car journey home.  It seems that Jack, who remember is almost entirely non-verbal, had been singing, yes singing, a line from the song ‘Cornerstone’ by Hillsongs, which was a song that the worship band in his session had been playing during the week he was there…

Jack was singing over and over, “Weak made strong, weak made strong, weak made strong!”  And his eyes shone as he sang…

The full lyrics for the chorus are based on 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 and go like this:

Christ alone; cornerstone

Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love

Through the storm, He is Lord

Lord of all 

When I heard what had happened my heart broke for Jack again, but this time with joy; joy that Jack’s heart had been touched by this song, that through it he had indeed encountered the Saviours love; that through the storms of his young life, Christ alone is Lord of all …  I can no longer sing that song without remembering Jack, without thinking of him, without crying tears of joy that he is loved by his Saviour.

Jack taught me that there is always hope, hope for every child.  He taught me that Jesus Christ can, and does, through the power of the Holy Spirit, reach everyone, everyone, with his love.

So, let’s share that love a hundred times a day in all the little things we do with and for our child, let’s remember that nothing is lost, those seeds of love are eternal, and let’s remember to give space for God and to believe in the unexpected!

God Bless,

Mark Arnold

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Image by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay