How The Sound Of Our Autistic Son's Laughter Heals Us

James has an infectious laugh; it is one of those laughs that can start as a chuckle, a little giggle, and then builds and builds into a raucous belly laugh that barely gives him opportunity to take a breath. All sorts of things can set him off, maybe something he’s watching on his iPad. Once he totally fell about in laughter while watching the film ‘Mamma Mia,’ at the point where Pierce Brosnan was ‘singing.’ Ever the critic, our James! Sometimes it can be something we’re all doing together; he’s ever so ticklish too. But sometimes his laugh just shows us that he is delighting in the moment.

The other day, James was stretched out on one of the sofas in our lounge, just enjoying being with the rest of the family. A look of pure joy spread across his face, and as his laugh emerged, our non-verbal autistic son said, “Appy!! Appy!!” Indeed he was—and so were we!! It reminded me of the words given to Job by his friend Bildad the Shuhite (also known as the shortest person in the Bible. Think about it!):

“He will fill your mouth with laughter. Shouts of joy will come from your lips.” Job 8:21

Life was hard for Job, really hard, yet here was the promise of joy and laughter to cut through the hard times. Things can be hard for James too, especially at the moment, so seeing him truly happy and filled with joy and laughter was such a precious gift for us all, one that we will treasure.

When James laughs, it takes over his whole body. What starts as a gleeful giggle builds to become something that rocks his whole body with laughter. His arms often wave in the air, his face tries to contain his smile; he’ll almost stop, and then you’ll see whatever started him laughing pass across his mind again, and off he goes a second time. By this time we’re all joining in. In the same way that the great comics could set a whole audience off by just a look, or a chuckle—think Eric Morecambe or Bob Hope—whatever the initial trigger for James’ laughter, we’re all lost in the moment of collective joy and delight.

There are many wonderful sounds in the world: natural sounds like waterfalls, thunder, birdsong, or waves on the shore, and man-made sounds like a bell tolling, a piano playing, a crowd cheering, or a cork popping. But surely the sound of laughter is the sweetest sound, and the sound of our children laughing is the best of all.

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There is something wonderfully therapeutic about laughter. Lord Byron was on to something when he said “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” There is something healing about laughter, something that can soothe even the deepest pain.

In his old age, Solomon—one of the greatest of Israel’s kings—wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Perhaps looking back and 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)

He made a point that resonates down the ages to us today. For us as parents of a child with additional/special needs, there are certainly many times to weep, times to be sad. But there is so much more to life than the tears and hard times. Let us celebrate the happier times, the times to laugh and dance. Let us cherish these times, remember them, treasure them, to look back on as Solomon did, when harder times return.

When we allow the better days, the fun moments, the times of laughter, and even dancing to heal our souls, others notice. There is nothing wrong in sharing the sad feelings in additional needs parenting, that is healthy. But if all others see are our tears, if all they hear is our woes, if all they understand is our sadness, then they don’t get to see and experience all of the delights of additional needs parenting. Those delights might be rare and fleeting for some, but that treasure is still there.

Sharing the happier times, the little victories, and those moments where it all goes well shares more of us. It allows others to see how God still gives us those moments of joy and hope in the midst of the pain. It shows others why we don’t wait for the storm to pass, but learn to dance in the rain.

We join with what Ezra wrote when penning this Psalm:

“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’.” Psalm 126:2 (NIrV)


Mark Arnold is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints Church, Luton, Bedfordshire, UK. Follow his writing at