Iris Grace: Mother of six-year-old girl acclaimed for her beautiful paintings on new book about autism, family life and Thula the therapy cat

'A positive, inspiring but realistic story of an incredible journey'

In 2014 a five-year-old girl called Iris Grace began receiving widespread acclaim for some rather astonishing paintings.

They were sold to private art collectors for thousands of pounds each, garnering praise from experts and fans around the UK and as far away as America and Asia. 

Now, Iris’s mother Arabella Carter-Johnson has written a book about her paintings, and the work their family has been doing to raise awareness of autism. Published by Penguin Books towards the end of February, it has received an overwhelmingly positive response, described as a "positive, inspiring but realistic story of an incredible journey".

Speaking to The Independent, Arabella says writing Iris Grace meant “a lot of early mornings” but that the response so far has made it all worth it.

"I feel we are seeing a positive shift in attitudes towards autism,” she says. “People are seeing potential and the media coverage has been very encouraging. I am seeing more and more stories about employment opportunities for those on the spectrum which is very exciting, and my hope is that this continues.

"There seems to be less emphasis on a ‘cure’ or ‘cause’ and more on how we can improve the lives of our loved ones now, how we can help, how we can assist them to live fulfilling, happy lives, accepting their differences and seeing the brilliance within them."

It was recently announced that one of Iris’s paintings was bought by Angelina Jolie, something Arabella describes as "so exciting, and wonderful for autism awareness and acceptance".

Iris’s work has also been shared by Ashton Kutcher and Zooey Deschanel, while British actors Daniel Radcliffe and Oliva Coleman have gone to lengths to raise awareness through their campaign efforts; Coleman providing a voiceover for a video about Iris in 2015. 

Iris Grace Painting from Iris Grace on Vimeo.

The book itself tells the family’s story, illustrated with photographs and Iris’s paintings, and documents the fantastic progress Iris, now aged six, has made over the past few years, with help from her therapy cat Thula.

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6-year-old Iris Grace / Photo by Arabella Carter-Johnson

Last Iris went on her first trip abroad to Sweden, for the wedding of Arabella’s brother, and they are now planning more travels for 2016.

"Her speech is improving and she is speaking in short sentences but conversation is still difficult. Gemini (a speech therapy programme) still plays a big part in her therapy and I would highly recommend it to other parents," Arabella says.

Arabella also wants to work to ensure that the media doesn’t overlook other children who may not share the same unique talent as Iris.

"Her gift has given us the opportunity to show people there is another way: gentle methods following a child’s interest," she says. "My hope is that people are inspired and can see that there is a future, a bright one.

Living with autism

"The book has given me the chance to tell the full story, the dark times and the light. It documents the early days, the diagnosis, how we found a key into Iris’s world and then the arrival of Thula, and all that came after that.

"Through our story it becomes clear that it wouldn’t matter if that interest had been something like watering cans or shells, we would go with it and find ways to connect with her. There is always a way, always a spark of interest to follow."

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Thula the cat poses next to new book Iris Grace by Arabella Carter-Johnson

Iris Grace by Arabella Carter-Johnson is out now on Penguin Books. You can see some of Iris’s work on her website

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