Life with an Autism Service Dog

Part V: Pup-Peronies, fan clubs and channeling Temple Grandin
By Michelle O'Neil, December 2009

[Below are three excerpts from Michelle O’Neil’s blog about her daughter Riley’s autism service dog.]


Give That Dog A Treat!
Riley is not allowed to go on the Internet without permission. Period. Today she did it, and I had to follow through with consequences, banning her from the computer for 24 hours. She pitched a very big fit, screaming and stomping all the way up to her room. Jingle followed her. I grabbed two Pup-Peronies from the kitchen cabinet, and marched upstairs to her room. Jingle stood on the floor beside the bed, watching Riley carry on.

I pressed the Pup-Peronies into Riley’s hand, and walked out of her room, closing the door behind me. As I shut the door, I saw Jingle hop up on the bed. She loves Pup-Peroni.

Riley and Jingle remained in her room for about ten minutes. Then they came downstairs, and Riley played happily with her brother for the rest of the evening. No more meltdowns. No talk of the computer.

I’ve been finding when Riley is upset, if I just put the Pup-Peroni in her hand, she starts breaking off pieces and feeding them to Jingle. The change of focus, feeding the treats, seems to put Riley’s brain on pause long enough to hop off the fret merry-go-round, the continuous loop of upset that can often go on for an hour or more.

This was the first time I left them alone behind closed doors to work it out. Riley is the kind of kid who can’t tolerate unkindness to anyone, especially animals. She implodes, rather than lashing out, so I knew Jingle was safe with her.

It felt liberating to be able to hand off to the dog, what might have taken me much longer to accomplish. No twenty minute “talking it through” going around and around in circles.

We wound up having a great night.

Thank you Jingle.

The Jingle Club
Jingle has a fan club. Everyday after school, she is mobbed by children and grown-ups on the playground while Riley swings and Seth plays. There were a bunch of little girls who used to play “kitty cat club,” where they would all pretend to be cats, but they’ve changed it to The Jingle Club. They form a huddle around Jingle, and chant, over and over, “We love you Jingle! We love you Jingle! She’s a good girl! We love you! We love you!” There are so many children around her you can barely see Jingle in there, rolling on her back in ecstasy, absorbing all the attention.

In the photo, left, Jingle wears the hat of one of the girl’s mothers.

This rescued puppy from Kentucky is doing pretty well for herself. I guess that’s what happens when you radiate pure joy, and love everyone you meet.

Maybe I’ll try it.

Channeling Temple Grandin
We hang a bag of recyclables on a door knob between the kitchen and the hall leading upstairs. It’s elegant, yes.

Jingle over the last few days had developed a phobia of the area. So I channeled Temple Grandin and put myself in Jingle’s place. What I discovered through my detective work is this:

When Jingle passes through the aforementioned area, her wagging tail thrashes the recycle bag, making a scary clatter. She is convinced there is a loud monster behind the door, waiting to get her. In fact, she’d taken to checking behind the door before proceeding very cautiously, and only if you had a treat in plain sight to motivate her. She was basically terrified to leave the kitchen.

So, we took the recyclables off the door knob, and I had her walk the dreaded two foot path one billion times last night, feeding her minuscule pieces of Pup-Peroni. She is 99% over her fear.

Dr. Grandin, I hope I did you proud.

Michelle O'Neil has contributed to A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism and Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Heartache, the Happiness and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child. She has written for Literary Mama, The Imperfect Parent, Age of Autism and she is a contributor to Hopeful Parents. She has a nine-year-old daughter with Asperger's and a seven-year-old son with autoimmune issues. Follow her further adventures at her blog, Full-Soul-Ahead!

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