Life with an Autism Service Dog, Part IV

Jingle and Riley go to martial arts class.
By Michelle O'Neil, November 2009

[Below is an excerpt from Michelle O’Neil’s blog about her daughter Riley’s autism service dog.]

Last night Jingle went with Riley to martial arts for the first time. I wasn’t sure how it would go, because there is a lot of yelling, etc.—a lot for her to get used to. She is trained, trained, trained, but she’s still a dog. She has fears and feelings.

Jingle did very well. She held her “down” the whole time. She startled a few times over the noise, but she was more surprised than anything. She didn’t bark. You could tell she wished she could run along and play with the kids, but she stayed put. I fed her treats sporadically to give her incentive.  

The incredible thing for me wasn’t about Riley. This is “therapeutic” martial arts, and there is an older boy in the class who has autism (more than one actually but for this post we’re focusing on one in particular). He appears to be more severely affected, at least socially, than Riley. He lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw Jingle. He carried on a lengthy conversation, telling us all about his own pets. His blue eyes twinkled as he talked of his cats; he called them his “purr balls.”  He was animated. He made eye contact. He was really sweet and funny. They’ve been in the same martial arts school for over a year but last night was the first Riley and Seth got to know this boy. He’d never even acknowledged their presence before. None of us had ever seen him smile.

Way to go Jingle!   

And power to the purr balls!

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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