A 5-year-old English girl is turning heads and opening wallets with stunning watercolor paintings that have drawn comparisons to Claude Monet, the French 19th century impressionist. In the process, she is also drawing renewed attention to the untapped potential often hidden by autism and the use of art therapy as a treatment and outlet for autistic children.
“It was on her first painting I noticed a difference in her painting compared with how you would normally expect a child to paint,” Iris’ mom told ABC News in an email. "She filled the page with colour but with thought and consideration. ... We didn't think [too] much of it at the time, we were just so happy to have found an activity that brought her so much joy."
“There have been a lot of references to Monet because of the Impressionistic style. We have had many artists, dealers and galleries contact us who are very complimentary about her work, which is lovely,” Iris's mother told the (UK) Independent.
“For us, though, the joy that Iris gets from creating her pieces is the highlight, how it changes her mood, how happy it makes her.”
Some of the best photos online of Iris and her work are found at Bored Panda, which has published a second piece on her relationship with her therapy cat, a Maine Coon named Thula.
Art therapy is a widely recognized treatment not just for autism but for other forms of emotional or psychological challenges, according to the American Art Therapy Association. Art therapy can be used to "reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of personal well-being."
Among the promising uses of art therapy is treatment for dementia. Last year a Canadian journal published an article on highlighting the experience of Mary Hecht, a renowned sculptor suffering from vascular dementia who was able to do detailed drawings both from observation and from memory despite having lost most of her apparent mental powers to her Alzheimer's-like condition.
"Art opens the mind," said Dr. Luis Fornazzari, neurological consultant at St. Michael's Hospital's Memory Clinic, the paper's author. "Mary Hecht was a remarkable example of how artistic abilities are preserved in spite of the degeneration of the brain and a loss in the more mundane, day-to-day memory functions."