Special needs parenting is disrupted by the unexpected. But as Mark Arnold has learned, those unexpected disruptions lead to authenticity and love.

Image rights: ‘Broken Beautiful’ Teresa Shields Parker

Special needs parenting is disrupted to be sure. But as guest blogger and special needs dad Mark Arnold reminds us, it is also resilient, vulnerable, broken, loving, and more.

One of the things about parenting someone with special or additional needs is that life is never predictable. Just when you think that everything is going quite well, something happens that turns everything upside down. That this happens on a regular basis doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the next time or give you answers. It might, however, make you look at the light at the end of the tunnel and wonder if it’s a train just about to run you over!

Special needs parenting is disrupted, but it is normal for additional needs parents. It comes with the territory, and it will happen again and again. 

Over the years we’ve gone through and emerged from many disruptive periods with James. Some of them have been because of big changes in his routine at school. Some have been due to big changes in James as he has developed and grown. Hitting puberty was a very disruptive time for us all!

As James is non-verbal, we don’t ignore these disruptions, but work to understand what he is trying to communicate to us through them. What matters most is that James feels safe, cared for and is able to communicate his feelings in a way that we can understand and respond to.

While sometimes these disruptive periods can be hard for us as parents, one thing that this does build in us is resilience.

I remember the first time I saw an official form, describing us as a resilient family. Yes, our experiences over the years have built resilience in us. Our lived experiences have also enabled us to help others, especially through my additional needs ministry work. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t hard times, when we feel like we’ve been run over by that train, times like this morning when I was stood by the window looking out over the garden and longed for the day to go as planned.

Serving God by growing an additional needs ministry doesn’t mean we have all the answers. It doesn’t mean that we’re bullet proof.

We are as vulnerable and broken as anyone else. In fact ministry can increase our vulnerability, as the enemy prowls around looking to find ways to harm God’s work. But God knows this, and He teaches that He can use our vulnerability and brokenness to serve Him and others. It is because we are vulnerable, because we are broken, that we have authenticity and integrity. Without lived experience, scars, stories of disruption, resilience, vulnerability, and brokenness, we would have very little of real value to give.

Paul writes that If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I Corinthians 13:1 (NLT)

The experiences, scars, disruption, resilience, vulnerability and brokenness I speak of are united in love. Love for James, love for our family, love for those we serve and support, and love for God who is there with us through it all. Special needs parenting is disrupted. But Christ, alive in us and working through us, binds the disruption, resilience, vulnerability and brokenness together, and makes something beautiful out of it all.


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 needs or disabilities. Mark is a Churches for All and Living Fully Network partner, a member of the Council for Disabled Children and the European Disability Network. 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: marnold@urbansaints.org or @Mark_J_Arnold.


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