The knowledge that 'different is brilliant' is one of the most liberating and positive feelings our family has experienced since our daughters diagnosis of autism when she was two years old. Iris's severity of autism meant that she barely communicated with us, socialised or even looked at us. She was obsessive, had sensory issues, hardly ever slept and found other children deeply disturbing. I had to fight through the darkness, wanting to conform, struggling in a world that our daughter didn't fit into and a surrounded by people who didn't understand her.
Now four years on everything has changed and it all started with one crucial piece of the puzzle. Learning to follow Iris, abandoning the idea of trying to be 'normal' and embracing her differences. After many therapies there was one place where she was always free and happy and that was out in nature. We tried Equine therapy at a Horse Boy centre and although a love of horses wasn't there at that time it was evident that she had an intense interest in the forest, the light and colours that surrounded us. I rode through the avenue of trees, her fingers outstretched moving in the breeze, her body relaxed against mine in the saddle. The more time we spent outdoors the better and later that year we discovered her love of painting. Her table and painting kit left out in the kitchen or garden to use whenever she needed it and over a year she created more than 50 extraordinary impressionist style paintings that caught the attention of art collectors worldwide. Iris became one of the most famous child artists inspiring families to look past their child's diagnosis and to see their potential shining a light on autism. To me the most exquisite part was how she was while she painted. She was more open and started to talk. To see Iris's work visit her website here.
Her confidence grew and in 2014 after we brought home a Maine Coon cat called Thula, the second breakthrough. Iris and Thula's bond is remarkable, a kitten that showed me the way, proving time and time again how different was truly brilliant unlike any cat I have ever known she would take baths with Iris, settle her in the evenings and even ride with us on the bikes. But I like to think it isn't a phenomenon that can't be replicated. Many children will benefit from having a pet in their lives, sure, they may not be a Thula, a swimming, biking, boating super nanny cat but they will provide so much joy and ultimately help a steady progression.
I have asked myself many times if any child could be like Iris, are there hidden passions and skills waiting to be developed, encouraged and set free, I believe so. We home educate Iris because it was what suited her, a flexible, organic approach focussing on her own interests. She is free to move and play and I develop lesson plans where the motivation is intrinsic within the activity. She is self motivated and keen to learn.
I have shared our story in my first book 'Iris Grace' It's a celebration of how 'different is brilliant' and the achievements of our little girl and her faithful best buddy. It documents the journey from the darker days, through her diagnosis to us learning how to connect with her, finding her voice... I wanted to raise awareness for autism and what it is like to live with autism, but also to show people that there can be a future and a bright one. I believe that there is always a key - it is about following the lead of your child.
Now I am embarking on a new and very exciting project called Kids Must Move with two pioneering authors Rupert Isaacson and Kristine Barnett who have inspired me in the past. It's an online course that enables parents and teachers to effectively teach children on the autistic spectrum (or any child for that matter) in a stress free way using movement, being in nature and following the child's interests. Rupert talked to me about their 'Movement Method' that his team have been developing over the last 10 yrs. It was a revelation to me as their methods echoed mine and all the things that I know work with Iris were in this course. At last I knew the science behind it all, why it was working so well with her. After finishing the course myself I wanted to join their team and be a part of this incredible new movement in Autism that will change so many lives. I will be running the UK Movement Method Centre from my home in Leicestershire, England. We will be offering training to parents, teachers, workshops, activity days, talks and outreach to schools.
We share the same ethos that children on the spectrum, children with neurological difference can learn, succeed and thrive. They can grow up to have jobs, careers, love, at the center of our society. That relegating them to the margins robs us of some of the best human resources. We embrace who they are, not trying to coerce them into being something they are not. We believe in what's within each child working with their strengths and interests in an environment that suits them. We follow them, inspired and guided by our children.