Children of the Bible and My Autistic Son

The Bible is full of stories about children and young people. Some of these stories are the most well-known of all: Mary, Joseph, David, Samuel, Esther, etc. Some are lesser known, more obscure, but none the less important: the widow’s son and Elijah, Naaman’s slave girl, Jairus’ daughter, etc. In thinking about some of these stories, I wondered if I could see any parallels in any of their stories with my son James.

James is 16-years-old, autistic, has learning disabilities and epilepsy. There is no mention of any of these in the Bible, although some people healed by Jesus may have experienced epileptic seizures. So where is James in the Bible? Where can we read a story of a Bible character and think, “Yes, that’s a lot like my child?”

I think James can be found in several of the young people of the Bible. As you have a look at the journey I’ve been on to find him there, you might be able to find a child or young person you work with, or are a parent/carer to as well. Some of these comparisons are positive and affirming, some less so, a bit like the life of a young person with additional needs. We start with a hard one:

Joseph: Joseph was bullied. His brothers treated him badly and even thought about killing him before selling him to traders, making him one of the first recorded victims of people trafficking. Children with additional needs are statistically much more likely to be bullied, with at least 60% reported as bullied, although the real numbers could be much higher. There have been occasions at school when James has been bitten, had his hair pulled, and had his communication iPad thrown into the school swimming pool.

But God did not leave Joseph like that. He had plans for Joseph, wonderful plans that would be a blessing to many. While I see James in the hard things that happened to Joseph, I see James in the amazing way that God used Joseph in the future too. What God has already done through James is only the start, there is so much more to come!

David: When Samuel came to town looking for the one that God had told him to anoint, he found Jesse and his sons. Seven of the sons were examined by Samuel but none chosen, until Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these the only sons you have?” “No,” Jesse answered, “My youngest son is taking care of the sheep.” Samuel said “Send for him….” 1 Samuel 16:11

Shepherd with sheep.jpg

When David arrived, Samuel declared that he was the one God had chosen, and anointed him immediately. David was the least, the youngest, the one sent out to look after the sheep, deemed unworthy, the one initially forgotten when Samuel was looking at Jesse’s sons. So often children and young people with additional needs can be considered the least, unimportant, unworthy, unlikely to be chosen for anything. But that’s not how God works.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me, “I was listening to what you were saying about your son today and found myself wondering whether he has any sense of, in hearing about him, how much his life ministers to others?” That moved me deeply, and helped me to think about how James, like David, is considered the least by many. Unimportant, the last choice to be anointed by God, but yet through James and the work he has inspired, many people are ministered to. God uses the least likely, those rejected by others, to reveal His message, reaching many through them.

Timothy: Paul refers to Timothy’s youthfulness, although it unclear exactly how old Timothy was when he met Paul. The reason I see something of James in him is because of this verse, “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

James 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. 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’ favorite song for me to sing with him is “Jesus loves me, this I know.” The words of the first verse are below; the words that James joins in 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.

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!

Mary: How do I see James in Mary, the mother of Jesus? First of all, when she gave birth to Jesus she was widely believed to be in her mid-teens, perhaps 15-16 years old, exactly the same age as James. But it is in Mary’s song in Luke 1 that I see James. Mary was a young girl, one of the least, but when she was chosen by God to do great things, she responded in faith, “My soul gives glory to the Lord. My spirit delights in God my Savior. He has taken note of me even though I am not considered important. From now on all people will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me.” Luke 1:46-49

Yes, I can see James in the Bible, and I hope you can, too. I hope you can see your child, or a child you work with or support. They are all in the Bible if we look, and if we seek God’s wisdom to find them. In finding them, we can see the hope that we all have for their future, and the plans God has for each and every one of them.

As James would say; “Amen!”

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