Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Iris Grace by Arabella Carter-Johnson
I've followed Iris Grace Painting on Facebook since a friend posted a video of this talented little girl painting. Iris lives in England and is on the severe end of the autism spectrum. During her first years, she had difficulty interacting at all and she was behind her peers in several skills. Frustrated with her inability to function in a preschool environment her mother, the author, decided to work on teaching Iris at home and gradually exposing her to social activities. But, it was painting that offered the first breakthrough. Iris had a natural talent and painting made her happy. Gradually, she began to open up.
The second breakthrough came when the family adopted Thula, a Maine Coon kitten. Thula is an adventurous kitty who goes on bike and boat rides, climbs into the tub with Iris, helps Iris sleep by napping with her and curling up with her at night, and even goes swimming with her. Thula has helped calm Iris when she needed to be soothed and provided a friendly presence.
The book Iris Grace tells her story, beginning with her parents' first meeting and proceeding to the present. Carter-Johnson is a professional wedding photographer and the book is absolutely beautiful, packed with gorgeous photos, paintings by Iris, and pencil illustrations at the opening of each chapter. Even the end papers are charming. While I do think the book suffered a bit from at least one first-time author flaw (the overuse of the word "so"), that single flaw and a couple of minor editing errors were the only problems I found with the book and I gave it 5 stars. I enjoyed learning a bit about how a child with severe autism reacts physically. I knew some of the behaviors but not all and I found Carter-Johnson's teaching methods fascinating (but expensive -- sounded like she spent an awful lot of money on props for learning experiences).
I hope, more than anything, I've learned enough from Iris Grace to know how to react if I'm ever in public when an autistic child has a meltdown and/or to be more understanding in a public venue. I found it particularly interesting learning about how Iris Grace reacts to music. Carter-Johnson has mentioned frustration with people who are not shy about saying their experience has been ruined by young Iris's movement and vocalization during concerts. While I can understand how they might feel and would never criticize parents in public (I had high-energy children and was occasionally criticized by strangers, myself; I keep my mouth shut), it's helpful to be educated about that kind of behavior and why, when they take her out in public, they're actually being good parents, carefully exposing their child to challenging situations. It's far too easy to judge.
Highly recommended - Iris Grace is one of the most beautiful books I've seen. Gorgeous photos, paintings, and pencil sketches make it a pleasure to page through. The memoir portion is quite well-written, with only minor first-time author flaws and is quite compelling. I enjoyed the learning experience and admire the author's efforts to help her daughter open up socially and learn to cope with the situations that overwhelm her senses. Cat lovers will also enjoy reading about Thula's part in helping Iris.
Note: Iris Grace has not yet been published in the United States. I pre-ordered a copy from Book Depository when the author talked about it on Facebook.
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