Over the last couple of years the story of a young autistic girl named Iris-Grace, with an incredible talent for painting, and an adorable close friendship with her pet cat, has swept across the internet and media worldwide. Her mother, Arabella Carter-Johnson, introduced art as a means of therapy to help with her concentration and her speech. Unlocking a natural talent way beyond her years, her paintings are now sold across the world. Iris-Grace’s world opened up even more when her mother bought a Maine coon cat for her to play with. Non-verbal before then, speech soon followed and her fear of water disappeared, as Iris and Thula became the best of friends. Here, Arabella shares with us how the combination of therapy and their cat Thula has changed their lives, and how it has led to an exciting new project called Kids Must Move
‘I’m so hungry, I could eat something with big claws and a hard orange shell.’ I said, Iris giggles, lifts up the fishing rod with the magnet dangling at the end of the line and carefully positions it until she catches ’a crab’ she said looking at me smiling then she rushes over to the trampoline for a bounce.
‘Im so hungry today, I would like to eat someone with eight legs.’ Iris runs over and cries out ‘octopus!’ she laughs as she catches it.
Thula her faithful feline friend sat beside her trying to bat it off the end of the line. It was one of those delightful moments when everything was working and there was a reason for that, I had learned how to take the pressure off Iris, how to use movement and to teach her in a way that followed her interests in an environment that suited her. That day we were in the garden room, an extension that we built onto our house, natural light flooded in through the glass gable end. I had decorated the room for our sea theme creating a magical world for Iris to explore.
This wasn’t always the case, teaching Iris wasn’t always that easy. After her diagnosis of severe autism at 2 yrs old I had to turn things around from the doctors depressing and unhelpful tone. It was a confusing time researching all the different therapies and techniques that made no sense to me.
I found the key was to follow her, to immerse myself in her world through observation and use what I found out to connect. Her love of nature, textures and then the discovery of painting were precious keys unlocking her world. But there are stories within our story.
I read ‘The Spark’ by Kristine Barnett, reading her words gave me the confidence to move forwards and to trust I was on the right road. Motivating me to start running my own activity club to ensure Iris spent time with other children in a stress free and fun atmosphere.
Reading Rupert Isaacson’s bestselling book ‘The Horse Boy’ inspired me to carry on searching for an animal that could reach Iris in ways that I couldn’t. Their stories moved me to tears and gave me joy, our lives connected by our children. Through their experiences I could stay positive and strong for Iris even in the challenging times when I felt alone.
Then I told our story in my first book ‘Iris Grace’ and I hope it will inspire others too.
Now I am embarking on a new and very exciting project called Kids Must Move with those two authors Rupert Isaacson and Kristine Barnett.
It’s an online course that enables parents and teachers to effectively teach children on the autistic spectrum (or any child for that matter) in a stress free way using movement, being in nature and following the child’s interests so all motivation is intrinsic and fun.
Rupert talked to me about their ‘Movement Method’ that his team have been developing over the last 10 yrs. It was a revelation to me as their methods echoed mine and all the things that I know work with Iris were in this course. At last I knew the science behind it all, why it was working so well with her. If I imagined a course for other parents and teachers to do this would be it and not just great for autism but all kids.
After finishing the course myself I wanted to join their team and be a part of this incredible new movement in Autism that will change so many lives. I will be running the UK Movement Method Centre from my home in Leicestershire, England. We will be offering training to parents, teachers, workshops, activity days, talks and outreach to schools.
We share the same ethos that children on the spectrum, children with neurological difference can learn, succeed and thrive. They can grow up to have jobs, careers, love, at the center of our society. That relegating them to the margins robs us of some of the best human resources. We embrace who they are, not trying to coerce them into being something they are not. We believe in what’s within each child working with their strengths and interests in an environment that suits them. We follow them, inspired and guided by our children.
As Dr Temple Grandin says about the Movement Method, ‘It Works!
Arabella Carter-Johnson is Iris Grace’s mother and a professional photographer. In 2008, she and her husband Peter-Jon settled in the rolling hills of Leicestershire where Arabella grew up. Working as a freelance photographer, her work ranged from family portraits, landscapes, to film stills capturing unique images by using natural light and quiet observation. The following year she joined a well-renowned portrait studio and became their lead wedding photographer. Arabella and P-J’s daughter, Iris Grace was born in 2009 and their lives changed forever. Arabella has documented their journey through diary entries and photographs and now tells Iris’s story in her first book.