Diagnosed with a severe form of autism at the age of 2, Iris Grace Halmshaw—a girl who has gained fame due to her incredible painting abilities—displayed behaviors typical to many children with autism. She avoided eye contact with others and wouldn’t play with her parents or other children. Other behaviors included irregular sleep patterns and anxiety around strangers. Instead of interacting with others, Iris would immerse herself in books. That all changed when a particular feline caught Iris’ fancy.
Trying to find ways to interact with their daughter and to get her to interact with the world around her, parents Arabella Carter-Johnson and Peter-Jon Halmshaw began researching what they could do to help. Many children with autism respond well to dogs and horses, so they decided to give that a try. When introduced to those animals, Iris wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until Iris’ uncle needed a cat-sitter that she was able to make a connection.
After their successful experience, Iris’ mother made a post on Facebook looking for the perfect cat for her daughter. The family chose the Maine Coon breed, as Maine Coons have an affinity for water; are vocal, friendly and intelligent; and make excellent companions.
After cuddling together the first night, Thula seemed to be able to sense Iris’s anxiety before it happened. Thula studies Iris’ movements and mimics them, which encourages Iris to continue.
Thula’s patience extends far past expectations for an average cat; she allows Iris to hold her tail, and the two even take baths together.
When you think about service animals and emotional support animals, you typically think about dogs. Thula is proof that any animal can provide love and support to a child with autism.