Service dog will keep First Grader with Autism learning with her - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Service dog will keep First Grader with Autism learning with her peers

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COLORADO SPRINGS -  A young girl and her service dog. News5 is looking into how help from man's best friend is keeping a first grader learning with her peers. 

LJ is a first grader at Remington Elementary Falcon District 49.  She's been undergoing therapy for autism since she was three years old. She's improving but her parents and doctors think she can do better. Her service dog, Coco, will go to school with her, communicating for her when she can't find the words, and bridging a gap between her peers.

At only a couple of months old, Coco a sheepdog and poodle mix is undergoing training to become LJ's forever friend. "Having Autism can be very lonely," said LJ's mother Jamita Johnson.

Coco is too young for school just yet. Training to be a service animal can take up to two years. She's learning how to help LJ out of daily frustrations. "One of the things that LJ struggles with is focus," Johnson said. "She also has some sensory processing issues."

LJ has a recommendation for a service dog from her developmental pediatrician. Once Coco is certified, they'll head to school together. District 49 plans to host an open house so staff and other parents can ask questions. They understand Coco's importance to LJ's educational needs.

"Some dogs will alert when a student is getting ready to have a seizure," said Kathlynn Jackson, the Assistant Director of Special Education at District 49. "Some dogs will alert when a student is very anxious and they're essentially a claming tool or resource for the student to use at school."

Coco will also help LJ out of behavior moments by helping her to refocus and get back on track. She'll also let her teacher know something is wrong when LJ is too overwhelmed to say it herself.

"If there's anything wrong with the child, its natural for a dog that's connected to break that down stay and stand up," said Kathyln Ross, of Karma Dog Training. "That's a cue for the teacher."

She says Coco will be trained not to seek attention., but other students will also have to understand that Coco is more than a pet. "That's one of the things that we help other students recognize too, that's it's really not a pet," Jackson said. "So we really help students understand the role the dog serves in the school with us."

Coco is training with LJ's family at home and with the help of Karma Dog Training.  She's learning LJ's tendencies and getting used to different environments so she can eventually go to school with LJ. The Johnson family is fundraising to afford Coco's training. Click here to learn more.
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