Friday, 18 March 2016

Cat helps autistic girl to communicate

A six-year-old autistic girl in Leicester has found therapy in painting and her cat.

Iris Grace Halmshaw was diagnosed with autism in 2011. Her disorder prevents her from speaking so with the encouragement of her parents she learned how to express her emotions through painting instead. Her beautifully abstract pictures are sold and the proceeds are used to pay for Iris' therapy treatments and art supplies.

In 2014, a new feline friend also helped to make a world of difference in Iris's ability and desire to communicate.

Through her research, mum Arabella had discovered that many children responded well to a variety of animals, from dogs to horses and they tried both, but Iris didn't connect. When her brother travelled to Sweden for Christmas and needed someone to cat-sit, Arabella was amazed to see the way they bonded.

She decided to reassess her assumption that cats were aloof companions and posted on Facebook asking about the most suitable breeds. Many people pointed her to the Maine Coon, a cat native to the U.S. She was excited to learn that they were friendly, intelligent, quirky, vocal and even fond of water!

When they brought Thula home from a local breeder, Iris immediately took to the fluffy kitten and cradled her in her arms in bed on the first night. Iris quickly gained confidence with speaking as she tried to tell her new pet what to do. She seemed to relax around Thula, stroking her ears and whiskers,and the cat didn't even mind when Iris held her tail.

Because Iris hated the sensation of things touching her skin, like clothing or water, getting dressed or taking a bath could be incredibly difficult. But as a water-loving breed, Thula hopped right in the bathtub. Soon, Iris began to take all of her baths accompanied by the kitten.

Thula just naturally seemed to know what Iris needed, adapting her behavior and becoming the perfect companion. If Iris became impatient in the car, Thula would walk over and sit on her lap to calm her down. If she had difficulty during the day or woke up at night, Thula would distract her until she had settled again.

Mum Arabella is a professional photographer. She has documented their journey through diary entries and photographs and now tells Iris’s story in her first book which includes many of Grace's paintings.

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