Issues

A 5-year-old girl with autism creates stunning paintings

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Draped with a colorful patterned cloth that wraps around her tiny shoulders, 5-year-old Iris Grace Halmshaw strategically dips her paintbrush from mug to mug and splashes an array of color across starch-white paper. With her trusty cat, Thula, by her side, Halmshaw mixes shades of pale blues and greens, and freckles her canvas with contrasting reds and pinks. The toddler from Leicestershire, England, may not be able to fully form words, express emotion, or interact on a social level like other children her age, but she can certainly paint. Halmshaw is the artistic child prodigy behind the vibrant paintings that have gone viral across the web. Her work, which has generated attention from millions, has been featured on Yahoo, MSN, ABC, ITV, and countless other online news media.

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Halmshaw, who was diagnosed with autism in 2011, is just starting to communicate through speech. She expresses herself with a few words, hand signals and small fits of laughter–but the toddler naturally showcases her emotions through her vivid paintings. With a carefully selected palette, Halmshaw blends together light pastels to create artful impressionism that belong among the greats.

Her parents, Arabella Carter-Johnson and Peter-Jon Halmshaw, said their daughter has truly flourished through her ability to express herself through these unique artistic renderings.

“Her autism has created a style of painting which I have never seen in a child of her age,” Carter-Johnson said. “She has an understanding of colors and how they interact with each other.  She beams with excitement and joy when I get out the paints; it lifts her mood every time.”

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Her mother, who gives her daughter a free range of artistic creativity, describes a typical painting session:

All of her kit, the table she paints on and the equipment is left in the kitchen so she is free to come and go, painting when she wants to. Iris indicates she would like to paint by walking up to the sink and pointing at her brush and the mug she uses. I go to the cupboard and take out the paint bottles, and she indicates which color she would like to be made up. If the color isn’t there, like purple, she will find an item that is that color to show me what she wants to be mixed. She has also started to make up her own colors, dipping brushes from mug to mug, watching the color change, then using it on the paper.

I then add water and she tests it out, on many occasions she will take it back to the sink if its not the right consistency.

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Iris paints with high flicks, dots, dabs, uses rollers (textured rollers, straight lines are created by those), stamps, and a range of brushes and sponges. When she is finished for that session, she puts her tools down in the mug and leaves the table. She waits for the painting to dry and then goes back to it to do some more in the afternoon.

If I notice she isn’t interested anymore in the painting I will ask her if its finished and if there is no response I start to take it off the table and I have somewhere in my office where I store them. She will either stop me doing that if its not finished or let it go. She sometimes does a little jig/dance to indicate she is pleased with it and sometimes she will take a piece back to the table if she feels it needs more.

Here are some samples of the incredible pieces the 5-year-old has created:

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Halmshaw’s parents first encouraged their daughter to paint in order to develop her attention span and speaking abilities. Now, the 5-year-old can concentrate for roughly two hours every painting session. Her parents hope their daughter’s paintings can continue to inspire others and raise awareness on autism.

“She has found a way of expressing herself that is so beautiful, Carter-Johnson said. “We wanted to share it and thereby raise awareness of her condition, which is currently affecting around 100,000 children in the U.K.”

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