Service dog helps autistic boy

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Life is a little easier for a 6-year-old autistic boy and his parents after a service dog begins spending time with their family.

In January, Channel 4 profiled Ryan Benedict and his Navy family who needed help obtaining the dog -- and within hours viewers had donated funds to make it happen.

Project Chance, a local non-profit, had found a dog for the family, but it cost $8,000, and the family was $3,000 short.  Within hours of Channel 4 telling Ryan's story, the community donated the rest of the funds.

Ryan's mother, Jinnie Benedict, says she's thankful the community recognized their need.

"Lighten the load, just ease the mood," she said  "It is just so stressful for our other kids who cry all the time wanting to know why this happened to him."

She's already see improvement in Ryan because of the service dog, and it's only been off and on visits because the dog is still training.

"The longest she's stayed with us is about three weeks, and it was a great three weeks," Benedict said. "That's when (Ryan) threw the ball for the first time. It was really amazing to see."

Benedict says taking Ryan in public is a challenge because of his behavior, but having a service dog along makes a big difference.

"It is amazing not to be judged, and I can't believe how easy it is from them to just see a dog with a vest on and say, 'I get it,'" she said

Ryan attends a school for autistic and developmentally challenged children called The Jericho School for Children with Autism. Benedict says the school helps Ryan learn at his pace.

"He's 6-years-old, but he waved for the first time, and now in the morning, he says, 'bye' to me, and that's... I can't put into words how exciting that is," Benedict said.

Because the community reached out and helped Benedict she wants the other 20 families who have kids at Jericho School to feel the love too, so she's throwing a fundraiser for them.

She's holding a pancake breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 1, at Applebee's at the Town Center.  The cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children.

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