Book Review: Iris Grace
Posted on April 26, 2016
Some videos and stories have been doing the rounds of social media for the last little while about a small girl with autism and her amazing cat. Different people have sent me links to these over the last year, but the coverage has stepped up a lot in the wake of the book, Iris Grace by Arabella Carter-Johnson.
Iris Grace was pronounced by a specialist as having “severe” autism aged two years old, at which time she was non verbal and extremely sensory assaulted by the world around her. She didn’t hold eye contact with her parents or share affection. Her mother Arabella parented her child so intuitively that she found a way to harness her daughter’s strengths in a manner that, over time Iris was able to learn to speak and play and experience her physical environment in a very different way to that from which she began. Home based therapies like Floor-time, (which we use with Boodi to great effect) were utilised to find a way to make Iris want to interact with her family and surroundings.
Arabella had a breakthrough in teaching Iris when she introduced her to watercolour painting. At first Iris was distressed by the way that the paints ran down into a messy chaos on the easel, but her mother found something quite different happened when she had the idea to tape wallpaper liners onto a coffee table. Iris began creating beautiful watercolour paintings that have been likened to those painted by Monet. She would let Arabella know when she was finished, and which colours and thicknesses of paints she wanted mixed. Thus began the blooming of communication between Iris and her mother, and later with everyone else in her life.
The next big leap for Iris occurred as a result of the arrival of a Maine Coon kitten named Thula. Arabella had tried to introduce a few other animals into the household with little success, but Thula made all of the difference. Arabella had researched cat breeds and discovered the Maine Coon, a very intelligent, gentle and friendly cat, often likened to having a dog-like character. Iris and Thula bonded immediately, and the gentle guidance and comfort offered by the furry feline opened Iris up to new and different experiences that had earlier seemed impossible.
Iris Grace is now 6 years old and has blossomed in a thousand different ways. Her painting and her wonderful cat have been instrumental to that but, reading the book, one can’t help but think that these were mere props beside the intelligent grace and determination of one little girl and the love and creative flexibility of her mother.
The book itself is unlike any other book that I have read since I began reading about autism. It is visually beautiful in hard cover, between the pastel glory of Iris’s artwork, Arabella’s luminous photography of Iris, Thula and the stunning Leicestershire countryside and the whimsical illustrations of Iris’s adventures throughout. Despite said beauty, I found it absolutely irresistible to take my green fine liner pen to whole swathes of text, underlining and making notes, because the intuitive ways in which Arabella has chosen to teach her child, along with the deep respect with which she holds her at every step, filled my heart like wind under a sail.
I have never read another account of a child that reminds me more of my little Boodi Dot, and Arabella’s book was incredibly inspiring to me. I have been imploring everyone who loves my child, along with his therapists and those involved with his care to read this book, and I passionately urge anyone who knows a child with autism to read it and take in the idea that if we just shape the world to the child, rather than the opposite of that – if we stop to look and listen, then we see the child within unfurl.
April has been World Autism Awareness Month, though we prefer Acceptance to Awareness in our house, and on April 2nd, World Autism Day, we bought a gorgeous Maine Coone kitten named Jane for Boodi. Of Jane, no doubt you will hear more…
Linking up with Essentially Jess for #IBOT