Gifted artist Bella, 5, paints her way to new trained dog

Bella busy creating one of her popular mixed-media paintings

Bella's family have collected nearly £1,500 so far by selling some of Bella’s paintings which she creates by using mixed media including water colours which react with seas salt to produce a myriad of abstract colours and patterns.

Jodie and Dan Bartholomew Oates decided to sell their daughter’s artwork after they posted some of her paintings on Facebook, without saying who they were by and were surprised by the number of people who praised them and were interested in buying one. They have now been sold to buyers from as far afield as the USA and Switzerland and are also on show at the local café in Confolens.

Bella’s mother says her daughter is a smiley, happy girl with an infectious grin which lights up the room as she enters. She has extraordinary talents such as her painting and she learnt to read aged three-and-a-half and at five is reading, to herself, the works of Roald Dahl.

At the same time, every day is a challenge as tasks such as getting dressed and eating are difficult and so are skills requiring physical coordination such as riding a bike. She has yet to sleep through the night and is often anxious and upset when she feels she cannot cope.

At present, she is home schooled although a sympathetic teacher in the local primary school has recently welcomed her into the classroom for one day a week.

Mrs Bartholomew Oates says a specially trained dog would be a huge help to Bella: “She loves animals and we have a dog but he is old.
“Dogs trained to help autistic children and adults have a number of different skills. They are trained to reassure their owner. They will provide a barrier between the person and other people in the outside world which can be noisy and confusing to an autistic person.
“Children often have a tendency to bolt from a difficult situation and these dogs which have a special harness when they are out are trained to sit when the child wants to run away, making it difficult for the child to go.
“If they do run off the dog will bark to warn the accompanying adult and if the child has gone too far they can track her by scent. One of the most difficult situations for parents to cope with is when an autistic child has a meltdown and loses control completely and can harm both herself and others.
“An adult often wants to give the child a big hug to calm her down but an autistic child might not respond. However the calming presence of a dog who will lean against the child can help enormously.”

As there are more established organisations training dogs in the UK, the family intend to buy a Labrador there and bring it back to France where they will have to further train it themselves with the help of an instructor from the UK via Skype, which will cost them around £30 an hour: “It will be a huge challenge”, says Mrs Bartholomew Oates, “but it seems to be the only solution.
“We will then take the dog back to the UK where it will be tested and if it passes it will then be awarded a special certificate which means that Bella could take the dog with her throughout Europe. We feel it will help her as she grows up and give her the reassurance she will need when she begins to face the outside world on her own.”

The family moved to France in the summer of 2014 and run luxury fishing holidays with accommodation which gives Bella and her younger sister Beau room to explore and be at peace with nature and means both parents can be with them as they work from home.

However, Mr and Mrs Bartholomew Oates are worried that Beau might also have autism and are taking her to the UK for tests this year, which means a specially trained dog could be even more helpful if they have to face the challenge of looking after two children with special needs.

To support the family you can go to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/arabela

You can follow their story and see paintings on www.facebook.com/arabelasart

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