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Meet a 'caticorn' at PopCats convention and learn more about autism

Nicole Villalpando
Presley Winters hugs her mom, Karissa Winters, who is dressed up like a caticorn, at last year's PopCats convention. They will be back this year to share more about autism with the crowds. [AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2018]

In 2015, Houston mom Karissa Winters was looking for a way to explain emotions to her daughter Presley. Presley, who is now 8, has autism, and sometimes reading people's faces and distinguishing their emotions was hard.

Presley, like kids with autism often do, also had favorite things that she got stuck on. For her, it was cats, butterflies, unicorns and rainbows.

Karissa Winters, who is an artist and a songwriter, took her art abilities and combined all those elements into the "caticorn": A cat with a unicorn horn that changes colors depending on his emotions. Oh, and he has rainbow-colored butterfly wings, too.

Winters and Presley, as well as a caticorn, will be in Austin as part of the PopCats convention May 4-5 at Palmer Events Center. They will be talking about autism and introducing more people to the book, which is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Walmart.

When the caticorn was invented, Winters would cut out different horns with a color that represented emotions. Think of the horn as a mood ring. "That's how she started learning about emotions and began to recognize the facial expressions," Winters says of her daughter. And then the stories of the caticorn began.

"She said, 'Mom, I think this would help other kids learn about emotions, too,'" Winters says.

The caticorn is a metaphor for autism. People with autism, Winter says, "color life differently," but in a good way. Also, like the caticorn, autism is a mystery. "No one knows why it happens," Winters says. "They're an unknown."

"I just hope that it will increase awareness and open up children's imaginations and make people see autism differently," Winters says of the book.

Mind you, "It's not all rainbows and butterflies all the time," she says. "It's hard."

Kids like Presley, who is considered high-functioning, often don't give visual signs of their autism. That makes it hard because people around them might not understand why they are acting the way they are.

Winters wants parents of newly diagnosed kids to think differently about autism. "It isn't the end," Winters says. "You can do something; your child can do something."

Presley is really good at art and reading, but she struggles with math and social cues.

One of the best lessons Winters learned came from author Temple Grandin. After Presley was diagnosed, Winters reached out to Grandin. Her advice: "Whatever your child is into, take it and run with it."

That's what made Winters find a way to bring together Presley's love of unicorns, butterflies, rainbows and cats.

All the proceeds from the book go to Good Dog Autism Companions, which trains service animals for kids with autism. It takes about $30,000 to train one dog. Winters' goal is to pay for one dog this year.

The book isn't just to help kids with autism. "We all need to talk about our emotions," Winters says.

RELATED: Mom shares less-than-pretty truth about raising a child with autism

'Your Guide to All Things Caticorn'

By Karissa Waters

$12.95, Christian Faith Publishing


10 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 4 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 5


Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road