JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For Ryan Benedit's mom, all that matters is keeping him safe. That's why she looked into getting a guide dog for her autistic son.
"My son is a bolter. And he will run in traffic. So the main reason as to keep him safe," said Jinnie Benedict.
A severely Autistic 6-year-old, she says her family will do whatever it takes to give him a good life.
"My husband and I do everything we can for him, ABA therapy, speech, we do aquatic therapy. You name it, we've tried it," Benedict said.
So when she heard about Project Chance in Fernandina Beach, she thought why not give it a shot.
According to the Center for Disease Control, almost 2 million Americans are diagnosed along the Autism Spectrum, but even in such large numbers, Jinnie says most people just don't understand her son.
"People would think, gosh, she's just a bad mom," she said.
When they got Chatam this year, a 13-month-old Golden Retriever, that perception began to change.
"When they see the dog, it turns in to a positive thing, like oh, he has something going on, what a sweet dog," she said.
"It's very novel, people don't know about autism dogs," said Project Chance Founder BJ Szwedzinski.
Szwedzinski has placed 18 service dogs with Autistic Children since opening Project Chance in 2003.
She gets the Golden Retrievers at a young age, and trains them at her property in Fernandina Beach for a year.
"Service dogs have to understand 365 degrees. Things coming at them from the side, from above, their peripheral vision," she said.
Unlike other service dogs, Szwedzinski wants people to pet and engage them, because it helps the kids.
"What I like to do is put on the vests for the dogs that it is an autism dog. And that helps people engage in conversation," she said.
Jinnie says her son may never be able to engage people in that way, but when she sees her son with Chatam, she knows he has that bond.
"I don't care who he has it with, and if it's a dog, it's a dog. Whoever his best friend is, that's who his best friend is, so it's really sweet to see that," said Jinnie.
Project Chance is a nonprofit, and they are funded by donations and grants. The dogs are $9,000 a piece, and both BJ and the family help fundraised the money.
If you're interested in learning more about Project Chance, here is their website HERE.
Jinni Benedict has started a meet up for parents of children with Autism. Here is their Facebook Page.
First Coast News