Even simple tasks used to be fraught with difficulty for Fraser Booth.
The four-year-old, who is autistic, easily became overwhelmed by everyday events, resulting in tears and temper tantrums.
Then Billy the stray cat came along. Abandoned by his previous owner and rescued from a boarded-up council house by a charity, he had not had the easiest start to life.
But since their first meeting, Fraser and Billy have been inseparable – and the moggy has helped bring the little boy out of his shell.
Now, whether it’s playtime, storytime or bedtime, Billy is there to offer a reassuring paw.
And he is the first to sense when Fraser is getting frustrated, calming him down with a cuddle or comforting purr.
Fraser’s mother Louise said: ‘If Fraser is around or playing in the garden, Billy is never far away. It is like he is watching Fraser and calming his behaviour.
He always appears when Fraser is getting upset and offers his head close to Fraser’s to reassure him and recently, when Fraser was poorly, Billy sat on his lap all day.
Mrs Booth, who is a full-time mother to Fraser and his 15-month-old sister Pippa, added: ‘It sounds crackers, but it is like Billy is Fraser’s guardian. Their relationship is something really special.’
‘He is not trapped in his own little world – as most people assume with people with autism – he is a happy little boy, but he can become frustrated or upset easily at the drop of a switch.
‘For example, if he sees a character on television he doesn’t like, or if we try to get him out of the bath and he doesn’t want to, there is usually a meltdown.’
But the arrival of Billy from a Cats Protection shelter 12 months ago has changed Fraser’s behaviour.
‘The first time we took Fraser to see Billy, the cat went straight to him,’ Mrs Booth added. ‘Fraser sat down on the floor and Billy laid across him with his paws on his legs and just started purring. Fraser said “This is our cat, he can come live with us,” and that was that.’