Conscious Cat

February 4, 2014 15 Comments

Cat Therapy Transforms Autistic Child’s Life

Posted by Ingrid

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Much has been written about how pets can help autistic children, but most of the accounts are about dogs and horses. Today, I’d like to share a very special story about how a Maine Coon kitten helped an autistic little girl.

Guest post by Arabella Carter-Johnson

Looking at a photograph of my 4-year-old daughter Iris, you wouldn’t think that she was any different than any other 4-year-old little girl. And yet, she is. Iris is autistic. She is not speaking yet and has great trouble with interacting with others, but expresses herself through movement and art. Since her diagnosis in 2012, with the help of many experts, we were able to learn about how we could help our daughter. Iris changed dramatically in just a short space of time. We still have a long way to go with her, but we are having many more good days than bad ones.

One of Iris’ favorite activities is painting. When she paints, she becomes completely absorbed in what she’s doing, and her paintings are simply incredible for a child as young as she is. In addition to painting, our new Maine Coon kitten has become my daughter’s new best friend, and has helped her in ways I never could have imagined.

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Over the Christmas holidays, we had a house guest: a beautiful Siberian cat we were looking after for a friend. Iris had formed a strong bond with this cat so I began to look into finding a cat for Iris. I researched several cat breeds to find one with all of the character traits I was looking for. The Maine Coon fitted the bill and as luck would have it there was an established breeder not that far from our house. The breeder had a kitten who wasn’t by any means the biggest or strongest, but was the most friendly, kind kitten she had ever known. Understanding that we were searching for a very special character, she thought that the female kitten would be perfect for us.

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The kitten has been at Iris’s side since she arrived and slept in her arms during her first night here like her guardian angel. She is a true Maine Coon: affectionate, loving and intelligent. It seemed like they were old friends as I watched them on the sofa, the kitten attentively looking at the iPad screen with Iris. She purrs non stop. We have named her Thula, pronounced ‘Toola’ after one of Iris’s favourite African lullabies called ‘Thula, Thula’ meaning peace and tranquillity in Zulu.

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Our morning routine is changing as a result of Thula’s presence. Iris, once slow to stir and difficult to get going before 9am now seems to have springs in her feet. She wakes up with a wide smile with her new friend beside her. Thula’s constant presence and gentle nature is having a remarkable effect upon Iris who is nonverbal most of the time. I am hearing more words. Iris is giving instructions to Thula. “Sit, cat,” she says when Thula is trying to play on Iris’ iPad. Iris says it with such authority that the kitten obediently sits down with her striped legs neatly together. Unlike most children of Iris’ age, she doesn’t maul, stroke or pick up the kitten constantly. Their relationship is based upon companionship. If Iris wakes during the night, Thula is there to settle her. It’s as though she instinctively knows what to do. When Iris gets distressed during the day, this little kitten doesn’t feel frightened, but rather, stays by Iris and distracts her from her difficulties.

I wanted to share Iris’s story to raise awareness of how beneficial and therapeutic a cat can be in the life of a child with autism. The way Thula is helping Iris is simply incredible.

You can follow Iris and Thula’s story on their Facebook page and on their website.

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15 Responses to “Cat Therapy Transforms Autistic Child’s Life”

  1. Bopeeps says:

    Awww that is so beautiful.

    Diana

    • Mel says:

      I have such happy memories of being soothed as a little child by various fluffy kitties I snuck into my bed/ house/ garden over the years, as my Mum could never ignore a stray cat in need. They re such underestimated animals and it annoys me when people express their dislike for them, saying they are cold and unaffectionate. To the people who don’t like cats and say they feel cats’judge them’ or look down at them, you are right!, they have no time for those of inferior intelligence to themselves!

  2. What a wonderful story! It’s fantastic how the two of them get along so well. Both are cute too!

  3. Lynda says:

    You really bring some wonderful stories to your site, Ingrid! This one is so sweet and hopeful; thanks for finding it and sharing it.

  4. Vickster says:

    It almost seems like Thula was waiting for Iris and family to bring her home! What serendipity!

  5. This is so beautiful…it’s absolutely made my day.
    What an amazing little girl AND kitten.
    xo

  6. Viki Worden says:

    This is a wonderful story. I have always believed that animals, cats included, know when things are wrong with you. It doesn’t matter what it is. Mine know when I am not feeling well. They stare at me when I cry and one of them rubs my head with his head. I am glad that Iris and Thula have formed a bond. It sounds like she will continue to show improvement.

    The only thing I question in the article was why they got a kitty from a breeder when there are so many kitties in shelters waiting to be adopted and end up getting euthanized. I know that wasn’t the point of the article, but being an animal advocate, I tend to focus on that.

    I hope Iris and Thula share many happy moments for a long time.

    • Der Viki,
      Just thought I should reply to this one so you don’t feel bad about the breeder part. After we found out at Christmas that Iris got on so well with our friends Siberian cat our intentions were to get a rescue cat and he had all the house checks done by the different shelters but there were very few cats/kittens that they thought were suitable for us. The problem was Iris’s age, she is under 5 and they have rules in place about that. On their recommendation we tried a black 1/2 Persian rescue but there was no connection at all between them and we had to send her back as all she wanted to do was to be away from Iris. I started to see that I was looking for a very special character and looked into the different breeds. In the rescue centres around us in the UK its mostly farm type cats needing homes, there aren’t any Maine Coons, Ragdolls, Siberians, Burmans…The breeder that we used is a very small very well regarded breeder that breeds MaineCoons for the pure love of it and protecting the breed here in the UK. They all live in her house and are very well cared for, it wasnt all like the big cat breeders I have heard about. So for us, the Rescue route didn’t work but I know it has and will do for many people.

  7. Sorry meant to say ‘dear Viki’ – on the ipad

    • Viki Worden says:

      Dear Arabella,

      Thank you so much for responding. I totally understand the situation. I am glad that you did not give up and found a kitty that Iris responds to. I work at a developmental center and we had a pet therapy program that had good results. I would have done the same as you for my child.

      By the way, Iris is adorable! When I first saw the one of her sleeping it brought a smile to my face. I am truely happy that you were able to find Thula for Iris. I wish you and Iris and the rest of your family the best. I would really like to hear updates regarding Iris and Thula if you are able to. Thank you so much for sharing.
      Take care,
      Viki

  8. I HAVE CAT says:

    This is beautiful – sharing!

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