Laughter is important for parents raising children with special needs. Mark Arnold writes about how his son James taught him this healing lesson.

Laughter is a gift frequently given to Mark Arnold by his son James. Though he is mostly non-verbal, James’ laughter is healing balm for his parents, something Mark has come to appreciate more with each passing year.

Laughter and How It Heals Us

James has an infectious laugh; it starts as a chuckle and build into a raucous belly laugh that barely gives him opportunity to take breath. All sorts of things can set him off, like the other day when James was enjoying being with the rest of the family. A look of pure joy spread across his face and, as his laugh emerged, our almost non-verbal autistic son said, “Appy!! Appy!!” Indeed he was!

It reminded me of the words spoken to Job by his friend Bildad the Shuhite: “He will fill your mouth with laughter. Shouts of joy will come from your lips.” Job 8:21 (NiRV) Life was hard for Job, and yet here was the promise of joy and laughter to cut through the hard times. Things can be hard for James too, and seeing him truly happy, filled with joy and laughter was such a precious moment for us, one that we treasure.

When James laughs it takes over his whole body. He rocks with laughter, and his arms often wave in the air. He’ll almost stop, and then whatever it started him laughing passes across his mind again, and off he goes a second time. By then, whatever the initial trigger for James’ laughter was, we’re lost in the moment of collective joy and delight.

It’s good for us to laugh. There is something wonderfully therapeutic about it. The poet Byron said, “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” There is something about it that can sooth even the deepest of pain.

In his old age Solomon, one of Israel’s great kings, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Reflecting on his own life’s experience, he wrote “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh. There is a time to be sad, and there is a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4 (NiRV)

For parents of children with special needs, there are many times to weep and be sad. But there is more to life than tears and hard times. Let us celebrate the happier times, the times to laugh, the times to dance, and cherish these times–remembering them, treasuring them, when harder times return.

Allowing the better days, the fun moments, the times of laughter–and goodness knows even dancing–to heal our souls gets noticed by others. If they only see our tears, if they only hear  our woes, if they only understand our sadness–and there is nothing wrong in sharing those feelings–then they don’t get to see and experience the delights of special needs parenting. Those delights might be rare and fleeting, but the treasure is still there. Therefore, we join with Ezra, who wrote in Psalm 126:2:

 “Our mouths were filled with laughter. Our tongues sang with joy. Then the people of other nations said, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’.”


Mark Arnold is the Additional Needs Ministry Director at Urban Saints, a leading national Christian children’s and youth organization. He is co-founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, a national and international advocate for children and young people with additional (special) needs or disabilities and is passionate about enabling everyone engaging with them to be inspired, trained and well-resourced. Mark is a Churches for All and Living Fully Network partner, a member of the Council for Disabled Children and the European Disability Networ. He writes an additional needs column for Premier Youth and Children’s Work (YCW) magazine and blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather, He is father to James, who has autism spectrum condition, associated learning disability, and epilepsy. To find out more about how Mark’s work can help you, contact him at: or @Mark_J_Arnold.


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