Iris is an exceptional painter. Her work can speak for itself but what makes the mostly non-verbal Iris such an exceptional painter is the fact that she’s only 4 years old and has autism.
‘When Iris was diagnosed with autism, the key was to find something she loved to do,’ says her mum, Arabella Carter-Johnson. ‘I’d taken her to a playgroup, but it had been disastrous.
‘There was one particularly noisy toy train that made her very distressed. She’d have a meltdown, an uncontrolled tantrum, any time a child played with it.
‘She’d bite into the plastic spoon she always carries in her left hand until her head shook. She’d cling to me like a limpet, throw her body towards the door and hit me if we didn’t leave.
‘At home, she became withdrawn. She would bite her lip until it bled.’
Arabella, 32, who runs her own wedding photography business, sought ways to still the chaos in her daughter’s mind and make play constructive and happy.
‘I recreated a play-school at home. The whole place became a fun house. We got a range of sensory toys, which Iris loved.
‘We put a paddling pool in my home office and filled it with plastic balls and installed a trampoline in the sitting room. Play, fun and laughter were the goal, and I wanted to teach Iris to interact with me, instead of being immersed entirely in her own world.’
She stumbled on art almost by accident. ‘One day I drew some stick men and Iris found them really funny. My mum bought an easel and we got the paint out. Iris made one brush stroke and the paint dribbled down to the bottom of the page. She was furious and burst into tears.
‘But I figured out the problem: it wasn’t the paint, it was the fact she couldn’t control it. So I put a sheet of paper on a table instead of the easel and straightaway she filled the whole page. She seemed to know intuitively what to do.’
You can learn more about Iris and her work at IrisGracePainting.com