A little girl with autism who caught the attention of the media when her paintings were compared to the likes of Monet has found her voice thanks to an inseparable bond with a cat.

Iris Grace Halmshaw, from Market Harborough, Leicestershire, became a global phenomenon when a private collector bought two of her artworks for £1,500 when she was three in 2013.

Iris Grace with her best friend Thula the cat

But because the tiny artist, now five, had not started to speak by that point, her parents decided to try a therapy animal in the hope she would learn to communicate.

After attempts to introduce a horse, dog, and even a cat as a companion for Iris did not work, her mum and dad had almost lost hope.

Painting sensation Iris Grace

But last Christmas when the family looked after Thula – a family member’s Siberian cat - the duo formed an instant friendship – and the feline became a permanent fixture at the little girl’s home.

“Iris connected immediately with her,” mum Arabella Carter-Johnson told Bored Panda.

Thula keeps Iris Grace company when she is painting

“Thula has lowered Iris’s daily anxieties in life and keeps her calm but equally has the effect of encouraging her to be more social. She will talk more to Thula, saying little phrases like ‘sit cat’.”

As photographer Carter-Johnson has captured in a series of stunning pictures, Iris and Thula are especially close.

Iris Grace and Thula

According to the 33-year-old, Thula has helped Iris get over a fear of baths – by joining her for a shampoo and even goes out and about with her on a leash.

“She offers Iris her companionship, friendship and supports me in encouraging Iris to interact,” she added.

Carter-Johnson has done a lot of research into how therapy animals can help children with autism. Painting was initially part of her therapy and that worked out better than they could have imagined.

She said: “I realised that I just hadn’t found the right animal yet. So, it took us a long time and a lot of trial and error trying out different options but we got there in the end.”

Iris’s beautiful paintings are for sale on her website Iris Grace Painting. All profits will go towards her continued therapy.

Photo credit: Arabella Carter-Johnson