Despite the title, the book is really not about Thula the cat. She is in the book, of course, and is an incredible companion and support for Iris, but she occupies only a small part of the narrative. The book is about Iris Grace, the author’s lovely daughter who is on the autistic spectrum, and all that was done to reach her and bring her into the loud, bright, fast moving world.
The book starts with Arabella and her husband and their life together before having Iris. Arabella at one point worked with training horses using a method that creates deep communication with the animals; they can be told what is wanted of them with small body movements when it’s done right. This may seem like an odd inclusion, but it’s important; Arabella’s ability to read body language turns out to be critical to the success of communicating with Iris.
After Iris is born and they realize she is not neurotypical, their lives are totally centered on her. Fortunately, both parents are able to work mainly from home, so Iris always has a parent with her, watching to find clues to what will allow them to communicate with her, and trying to interact. They spend a lot of time seeking information on Iris’s condition and trying various therapies. Their house is rearranged to give Iris maximum opportunities for exploration and expression. They must have spent a truckload of money on art supplies, therapists, and books. And it turned out to be worth it; Iris eventually started talking, and became able to tolerate crowds and go out into the world so she could enjoy music (very important to her) performances. And she discovered painting; she’d always loved working with art, but painting turned out to be her passion and forte. Her paintings remind me of the work of Impressionists, especially Monet. Many original paintings and prints have been sold.
And Thula? She’s proved to be a stabilizing force for Iris. When Iris is upset, she goes to her and maintains body contact, a firm reassurance. Before Thula arrived, Iris was terrified of taking a bath. Thula climbed right into the tub with Iris, and suddenly being immersed in water was acceptable, even enjoyable. Iris is her person, and she stays with her almost constantly, even at night- going to bed and to sleep is no longer a problem now that Thula is there to share her bed. She’s a natural service animal; no training was done and she was adopted as a young kitten.
It’s an amazing story, illustrated with line drawings, photographs (Arabella is a professional photographer), and Iris’s paintings.
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