In the early days life itself seemed distressing for Iris. She was withdrawn, not speaking and seemed to be locked away behind her books, avoiding all social and eye contact, and not developing language. She was highly sensitive to noise and other stimuli. It was only when she was in nature or left alone with the colourful pages and stories of her books that she could be calm, but because of her lack of speech she seemed locked into her own world. Slowly, I learned how to connect with her by following her interests, seeing the world of nature through her eyes and allowing her to set the pace. It wasn’t always an easy road, but it led to Iris discovering her talents as a painter. When she was in front of her painting table, her incredible ability to focus shone.
She produced art which has moved a wide audience: news of her paintings spread throughout the world, her art lined the corridors of hospitals, calming the patients and lifting their spirits, children in schools heard about her story, and celebrities including Angelina Jolie bought her work, bolstering autism awareness worldwide. It was an incredible experience watching her story grow and the positive impact she had on people’s lives. Our little girl who struggled to communicate was reaching and inspiring so many.
Gradually, I found a path to real communication with Iris. And this path grew ever wider after Iris formed a strong relationship with her Maine Coon cat Thula. It was Thula who helped Iris overcome her fear of water, who solved her troubles with sleeping and who led her into playing with others. Thula’s role was life-changing, for Iris and for all of us, and she became an inspiration for others: when I set up The Little Explorers Activity Club for other families in similar circumstances, it was often Thula and our other animals who would bring the children out of their shells.
We share our experiences to show that there can be a bright future, even with a severe diagnosis. Our message – if we follow our children into their world, we can learn, understand and discover that different is brilliant.