These heartwarming photos capture the incredible bond between an autistic boy and a cute cocker spaniel.

Leon Kirby-Bulner, four, has become "very best friends" with Fern, a three-year-old pooch, who his family say has helped him become more confident and communicative.

Mum Hayley Kirby-Bulner, who has dubbed Leon "Mancub" after Mowgli in The Jungle Book, credits Fern for overcoming the challenges autism presents.

Hayley, 44, said: "He was sadly locked in his own little world but, on meeting Fern, it was love at first sight. The pair quickly became inseparable, the very best of friends.

"Mancub's first interactions weren't with humans but with Fern. He had a sparkle in his eye we hadn't seen before.

It was "love at first sight" when Leon met Fern the dog

"He is a true animal lover and prefers animals to people. He is now an excellent communicator with non-stop chattering."

The adorable photos show little Leon doing everything with his best pal - from playing hide and seek to resting in bed. They are even pictured in their matching outfits.

Fern was homed as a puppy in 2017 when Leon was a baby.

Hayley, who runs a falconry business in Andover, Hants., added: "The help Fern gives us every day can't be underestimated.

"Amongst other things, she helps Mancub calm down when he has a meltdown often providing deep pressure stimulation, she guards the stairs to stop him hurting himself, she gets between him and the floor when he is trying to bang his head, and generally gives him comfort when needed.

Fern helps the four-year-old boy calm down after a meltdown

"She has numerous routines and tasks that make our family life so much easier and she loves helping out. We couldn't imagine not having her assistance now.

"Mancub and Fern is a partnership that will keep getting stronger and stronger, in all honesty she is at her happiest when she's with her boy. She just loves to help.

"Fern has completely transformed Mancub's life."

Hayley and husband Karsten want to help other families with autistic children. A Facebook page they've created in tribute to Fern has more than 4,000 followers. The parents, of Andover, use this to share pictures of the exploits of Fern and Leon.

Hayley added: "Knowing what a huge difference Fern has made to our lives and especially Mancub's, my dream was to help another family with an autistic child, who cannot afford to do this themselves, in the way that Fern has helped us.

"Therefore since the start of lockdown Mancub and I have been making embroidered items to fundraise for the first T.A.P. Assistance Dog - a fully trained working cocker spaniel.

"We are now very close to getting another autistic child their very own 'Fern' and my dream is coming true."