MAR 31, 2016 4:45 AM PDT

How a Cat Unlocked Autism for One Little Girl

Autism is a disorder that is at the forefront of neuroscience research, because of the large numbers of children that are being diagnosed with it. It’s not just one disorder though, it’s referred to as a spectrum and those who meet the criteria are diagnosed as having an “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD) or more simply said, “on the spectrum.”
A love of art and a cat has helped one girl with autism

The latest number on cases of autism in children stands at 1 in 68 children. of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) now stands at 1 in 68. In 2014 a CDC report cited a 30% increase among 8 year olds in a two year period between 2008 and 2010, most of which was due to better diagnostics. 
 
Autism presents differently in each patient and is widely varied. For the most part ASDs are characterized by functional impairments in a child’s social interaction and communication, as well as the presence of restricted repetitive behavior problems. Children with autism can have trouble focusing, be rigid in routines and have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, making school very difficult.  It’s commonly accepted that autism is a chronic and permanent condition.
 
With all the complex parts of autism and the incredible difficulties some families face, there is one family that is shedding some much needed light on the disorder and how it changed their lives. Arabella Carter-Johnson wrote a book about her daughter Iris Grace who has autism. The book, “Iris Grace: The story of a little girl whose talent unlocked her silent world” was published in February and in it Carter-Johnson credits an interest in art and a therapy cat that came to live with the family for bringing Iris Grace out of the darkness that autism can cause.
 
In an interview with The Independent, Arabella, who is a professional photographer and has documented Iris’ art and her adventures with Thula the therapy cat, said, “I feel we are seeing a positive shift in attitudes towards autism. 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.”
 
When Iris began to paint, her parents saw some small improvements in how Iris connected with the world but it was really when Thula, a Maine Coon cat, came along that they noticed real progress. Iris began to speak more, and venture out more with her parents. Thula has a special jacket and leash and rides in the basket of a bike when the family goes cycling. Thula even gets into the tub with Iris, and is by her side constantly.
 
While researchers spend hours in labs, looking at brain scans, counting genes and studying different treatments and therapies that may help unlock the mystery that is autism, for one small girl it simply took a paintbrush, some color and a friendly cat to open the door to a world of art, family and yes, even fame. Take a look at the video below to learn more about these two friends. Good job Iris and Thula!
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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