Iris Grace: Mother of child with autism says disorder 'can be a positive thing'

Her five-year-old daughter has raised awareness of autism through both her art and her relationship with therapy cat Thula

The mother of Iris Grace, a five-year-old girl who has been raising awareness of autism through her art, has said that autism ‘is a positive thing’.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast about her daughter’s story, Arabella Carter-Johnson discussed Iris’s life and the improvement brought about by her therapy cat.

‘I started up this Facebook page to spread the word about Iris’ art and shine a light on autism, to show people that autism can be a positive thing,’ she told the presenters. 

Iris Grace and Thula the therapy cat

‘If you focus on the child interests, you can connect with them.’

Arabella also spoke about how she discovered her daughter had autism. 

‘Ever since she was born she didn’t want to look at my face,’ she explained.

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

‘When we were cuddling her she wouldn’t want to be cradled in my arms, she would just want to have her head to the side of my chest and look outwards.’

‘So right from the beginning I knew something was different.’ 

Although Iris had shown improvement through her painting, it was finding her Thula, a therapy cat, which brought about significant progress.

As soon as we got Thula, it changed completely.

Arabella Carter-Johnson

Arabella had also tried horses and dogs to help Iris but neither had an effect close to that of the Maine Coon cat, widely known as ‘the gentle giant’ of cats. 

The mother previously spoke to The Independent about “a positive shift in attitudes towards autism” she had noticed recently. 

“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."

Arabella has also published a book on herself and Iris’s story, which has been described as 'A positive, inspiring but realistic story of an incredible journey'.

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

"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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