Washing My Autistic Sons’ Feet

James, my autistic son, gets cold feet. Sometimes this is because he often prefers to go barefoot, sometimes this is because his blood circulation isn’t as good as it might be, or maybe it’s a combination of the two.

He likes to have his feet rubbed, to warm them up, but he has also enjoyed having his feet immersed in a bowl of warm soapy water and washed. The sensory feeling of having his feet in the warm water is really enjoyable and having us washing his feet with a flannel tickles and is fun; the floor sometimes gets a wash too, as do we!

As I wash James’ feet, there is another thing going on as well; I am serving James as I wash his feet, being like a servant to him. I might be his Dad, he might look up to me in many ways and (sometimes!) do what I ask him to, but in that moment I am on my knees washing his feet, serving his needs.

To me, it reminds me that a vitally important part of my role as James’ Dad is to meet his needs, to do whatever needs to be done to help him. To be willing to put down whatever I think of as ‘important’ in that moment, whether that is work, church, household chores, whatever, and to wash his feet.

As I wash James’ feet, I see the joy on his face through the connection that we have; he chuckles and laughs, he delights in what we are doing and in the trust and relationship that we have.

As I wash James’ feet, I learn humility and servanthood. In my ‘day job’ I spend time helping children’s, youth and families workers to be inclusive, and that humility and servanthood is the attitude I try to adopt and encourage others to take. We work together to see change happen… to serve, to wash feet. Because when we’re on our knees washing feet it’s hard to feel self-important, it’s hard to feel superior, it’s hard to consider ourselves ‘better’ than the person we’re serving. We put their needs first, they are our focus, this is the most important role for us in that moment, nothing else matters. We meet their needs, we change, we don’t expect them to.

I have a faith, and as I wash James’ feet I am reminded of the time that Jesus washed people’s feet. You can read the whole story in John 13:1-17, but this excerpt from verses 12-14 shares what Jesus was teaching us as he washed the disciples feet:

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

Whether you read this as a parent or carer with a child with additional needs, or you work with children, young people or families where there are additional needs present, let us all metaphorically roll our sleeves up, get a bowl of warm soapy water, get down on our knees adopting an attitude of servanthood, and wash some feet together…. 

And as you do so, look up at the face of the child or young person you are serving, you might just catch a glimpse of them smiling back at you, and Jesus might be joining in with that smile too.



New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

See also:
Three Things Special Needs Dads Need To Know

Published by The Additional Needs Blogfather

Mark Arnold (The Additional Needs Blogfather) is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints, co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a ‘Churches for All’ partner, a member of the ‘Council for Disabled Children’, the ‘European Disability Network’ and the ‘Living Fully Network’, serves on the executive for ‘Children Matter!’ and writes a monthly additional needs column for Premier Youth and Children’s Work (YCW) magazine as well as being a writer for Firefly Community, DAD.info and Key Ministry among others. Mark is dad to James, a 20-year-old Autistic young man who journey's with Epilepsy, Learning Difficulties and Anxiety, and to Phoebe, an 22-year-old history student recently graduated from Winchester University.

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