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Meet Britain's 5-year-old "mini-Monet"

Iris Grace Halmshaw paints in her garden.

Iris Grace Painting

LONDON -- Iris Grace Halmshaw is a five year old who loves to paint. But unlike other children her age, Iris, who lives in Leicestershire, England, has art collectors around the world bidding on her work.

"It is her way of expressing the beauty she has experienced and enjoyed," Iris' mother Arabella Carter-Johnson told CBS News.

Iris is autistic and struggles to express herself, but art has changed life for both the little girl and her family.

It started in March 2013, when Iris tried painting as part of the homeschooling curriculum her mother created for her. Carter-Johnson quickly noticed that her little girl behaved very differently around paints.

"Once we had a setup with the paper taped onto her favorite table, she filled the paper with color. It wasn't random though, it was considered, and what I saw before me was beautiful," Carter-Johnson said. "Iris's mood had changed, too, She was elated, incredibly happy and free."

Since then, Iris' gift has only become more extraordinary. Bids for some of the paintings being auctioned by the family this week already exceed 4,000 British Pounds, or about $6,300.

The family started sharing her story online, and they've been blown away by the response from around the world.

Carter-Johnson said while it has meant some sacrifices, like taking the time to home-educate Iris and giving up her wedding photography business, at least for a while, it has been worth it.

"It has opened up doors to opportunities," she told CBS News. "With the sales of her paintings, prints and other products we have been able to continue her private therapies every week and employ a private tutor to help me with her home education."

That specialist attention is hard to put a price on for a family whose little girl who used to struggle to speak at all.

"Iris is coming on in leaps and bounds at the moment, and with more and more words each day, I am convinced that we are on the right track. By using her passions and interests we are finding ways to connect with Iris and I have never seen her so happy," Carter-Johnson said.

Like many autistic children, 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.

Her mom said she now communicates her feelings about that world directly through her paintbrush.

kumbengo-3.jpg
"Kumbengo" by Iris Grace Halmshaw
Iris Grace Paintings

"I can see so much of the music and nature in her paintings, and I think that is her inspiration, it is her way of expressing the beauty she has experienced and enjoyed. It can also work in a different way, some paintings have been there for her as a way to let out other emotions," Carter-Johnson said.

It has helped Carter-Johnson strengthen her own relationship with Iris. Her mother often takes on the role of "artist's assistant," and the five year old will take her mother's hand to guide her to what paint she wants. Similarly, they are able to combine her love of painting with speech therapy.

Carter-Johnson has many hopes for her daughter -- and so do art fans, some of whom have dubbed the little girl a "mini-Monet."

"Like any mother with a child on the spectrum, we hope for our children to live independent happy lives where they find something they love to do and meet someone to spend their life with," Carter-Johnson said.

She also offered a message to other parents with autistic children, or any children for that matter.

"On the spectrum or not, a child's interests and passions should be respected and encouraged. Fill their lives with it and follow them. So often we try to put upon them our ideas of what we think they should be doing, but we need to listen carefully and observe our little ones," Carter-Johnson said. "A spark of interest in a topic or an activity is precious."