You don’t often think of a cat being a girl’s best friend, but for 6-year-old Iris Grace Halmshaw, her cat Thula is her partner-in-crime. Iris, who lives in England, has autism. Before her Maine Coon Thula came into her life, her parents were worried she may never speak, according to TODAY.
Iris’ mom, Arabella Carter-Johnson, told TODAY that the pair were inseparable from the start. Before the family got Thula in 2014, Iris’ doctors warned her parents that she may never talk, but she’s proven everyone wrong–Iris has started to socialize. She’s also grown more comfortable partaking in activities that once gave her anxiety, such as riding in a car, swimming, and taking a bath.
She’s also started painting–she’s even made headlines because of her art, drawing comparisons to Monet. Apparently, she’s sold painting for thousands of dollars, with Angelina Jolie rumored as a buyer.
Her mom, a photographer, describes how her artwork symbolizes a social breakthrough, stating:
“We even started to see cat shapes within Iris’ paintings. Even though she wasn’t talking yet, it was as if we could hear her not through words but through her painting. Her impressionistic paintings that looked like nature, she adored, and it told us so much and allowed me into her world.
She would be happy for me to be around her. I was her artist’s assistant and helped prepare the mugs of watery paint. She would guide my hand back to the sink to add more water when she wanted it. It was an extraordinary feeling after so long of struggling to connect with her.”
Carter-Johnson also describes how Thula the cat has helped Iris speak, and how she wants other parents to be inspired by her story, because “anything is possible”:
“There were moments when I could almost run around the house with excitement, like when Iris asked Thula to ‘sit cat’ at the painting table or ‘more cat’ when she wanted Thula to follow her.
Before that, Iris had never made any verbal requests. And those skills started to transfer to us, too; she spoke more and more every day.
[Thula] is a remarkable cat, but I like to think that many animals could have this impact on a child’s life. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses. I say ‘different is brilliant’ and I mean it—we need to embrace and celebrate the differences in each of us.”
Don’t forget to check out this adorable video of Iris swimming and bathing with Thula: