Iris Grace, a courageous 5-year-old with autism, has amazing artistic talent. Easily, her work rivals artists of all generations and ages. One of her timeless pieces, “Rolling Balls” is shown below.
For more of Iris’ breathtaking work, go to irisgracepainting.com.
Upon a closer look at Iris and her day-to-day activities, we notice she has a companion to keep her company. Four-legged Thula is a Maine Coon 1-year-old cat. This special kitty brings a therapeutic presence to Iris’ life by lowering her anxiety level in order to keep her calm. Iris’s mom, Arabella Carter-Johnson, stated that Thula, “equally has the effect of encouraging her to be more social. She will talk more to Thula, saying little phrases like ‘sit cat.’”
Before meeting Thula, the family had nearly given up their search on finding the right pet companion for Iris. They were pleasantly surprised, however, when she bonded with the kitty during a cat-sitting over Christmas, they realized it had only been a matter of time.
“What ever activity we are doing Thula is there and wants to help and be involved,” her mom said.
Thula’s calming effect has really had a positive effect on Iris’ anxiety levels and her social interactions.
“Iris has been through a stage over the last year of hating baths and having her hair washed. Thula has been getting in the bath tub with Iris and even letting me shampoo her as well to help Iris.”
“Iris is more active first thing in the morning now. Before Thula, it was always hard to get the day going. She is easier to get engaged in activities and there have been changes out on our bike rides.”
“It wasn’t advised to get a therapy animal, but when you research autism, there are stories that come up from time to time about the wonderful effects that animals can have on a child with Autism.”
“We took Iris to Equine therapy but she didn’t seem very interested in horses at that time. Then I began to think about a therapy dog.”
“Iris and the dog didn’t get along – Iris hated being licked and the tail wagging, the hyperactivity of the dog would upset her. So, for a while I gave up on the idea.”
“Then I thought about a therapy cat after reading more stories about how they have helped children with Autism… but again, no interest from Iris and the cat didn’t seem to like her either.”
“By this point I was getting sick of the idea. I couldn’t carry on with trying out different animals, it wasn’t fair on any one and not helping Iris at all.”
“Then my brother’s girlfriend needed a place for their cat over the Christmas holidays and we offered to look after her while they were abroad. She was a beautiful Siberian and Iris connected immediately with her.”
“It was then I realized that I just hadn’t found the right animal yet. So, it took us a long time and a lot of trial and error trying out different options but we got there in the end.”
“Thula isn’t a trained service/therapy cat but I have done certain things – I got her used to wearing a harness when she was a kitten and riding in the car and on the bike. The rest she does on her own.”
“The harness has a very important purpose. Thula comes out on the bikes with us and there is an internal lead in the basket and I hook that onto her harness. She doesn’t normally want to jump out but it’s a safety measure just in case something frightens her, like traffic. She will also walk on a lead and the harness is more comfortable for her than a collar for that, and safer.”