Six-year-old Iris Grace Halmshaw struggled to come out of her shell until her mom introduced her to Thula, a Maine coon cat.
Iris, who is from Leicestershire, England, was diagnosed with autism in 2011 when she was two years old.
"Eye contact was a rare occurrence," her mother Arabella Carter-Johnson wrote on her website. "She didn’t want to or know how to play with us. [She also] showed obsessive behavior, got desperately distressed when we took her near any other children, and her sleep patterns were all over the place."
Carter-Johnson was exploring the idea of getting her daughter a furry companion when she brought home Thula. When she did, Iris' life began to change, she told InsideEdition.com.
"[Thula and Iris] settled on the sofa together and Iris played on her iPad with one hand on Thula gently stroking her fur. It was as if they had always been friends," she remembered.
"For the first time, I didn't have to do anything," she said. "I didn't need to step in and help."
Thula seems to intrinsically know what Iris needed, Carter-Johnson said.
"She seems to have an incredible sense of when to step in and encourage, or when she should keep her distance and let Iris try things alone," she said.
Since they met, Thula has been Iris Grace's introduction to the world. Thula accompanies her on walks, rides along on bike rides, and even joins her in the bath.
When Iris Grace wants Thula to join her at her painting table, she says, "sit cat." When she wants Thula to follow, she commands, "more cat." While many take such simple commands for granted, Carter-Johnson explained that speaking with her silent companion has been a big milestone in Iris' development.
"Before that, Iris had never made any verbal requests, and those skills started to transfer to us too," Carter-Johnson said. "Thula doesn't ask her to talk, but without that pressure, Iris felt happy to try."
In another attempt to encourage Iris' development, Carter-Johnson introduced her daughter to watercolor painting.
To her surprise, Iris Grace's concentration span in combination with her autism produced artwork that has caught the attention of private collectors around the world. Earlier this year, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were some of the collectors who bought her art.
Iris Grace has also published her paintings in a book, where Carter-Johnson speaks more to her daughter's journey with Thula, her cat.