Iris Grace Halmshaw is autistic and struggles to express herself, but art has changed life for both the little girl and her family. Iris's autism affects her in many ways, from sensory issues with noise and fabrics she comes into contact with, to problems with basic social and tactile interactions with the world around her.
Iris was officially diagnosed as a child with autism, a condition that has made her unable to communicate except through the medium of art. She has a tendency to drift off into her own world, like many autistic children. When Iris's parents introduced her to painting, they were hoping the activity would be a fun diversion and a way to get their autistic child to express herself.
But as soon as Iris picked up a brush, her parents were blown away by how she approached the painting. She shied away from doing simple paintings of houses or smiling stick figures and, instead, created colorful abstract pieces that appeared to express deep emotion. Her abstracts often depict particular moods or experiences after which they are titled, like Patience, Separation, and Immersion.
Many of Iris' paintings show an astonishingly mature interpretation of natural scenes, including waterfalls, fields and skies. to Professor Allan Snyder from the Centre for the Mind at the Australian National University, people like Iris are able to unlock the hidden wells of potential that lie in all of us, but are rarely accessed.
"I think it's possible for a perfectly normal person to have access to these abilities," he says. "[But] savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do. It just comes to them."