Jai Jayy the fox-red Labrador is bringing calm and happiness to an anxious little boy with autism.

It all seems like a bad dream now, but for the first six years of her little boy’s life the only way mum Rachel could get him round the supermarket was to put him in a shopping trolley, completely covered by his coat.

Attempts to get Jacob into nursery ended in him screaming the place down. Life was so tough that Rachel had to give up work to devote all her time to the youngster, diagnosed with severe autism and anxiety just before his third birthday.

Things very different now for Rachel, partner Delton, and their son, now seven, ever since a beautiful fox-red Labrador called Jai Jayy bounded into their lives.

Rachel and Delton were on Support Dogs’ waiting list for three years – longer than usual due to the pandemic – and Rachel admits that she never actually thought they would be successful in their quest for an autism assistance dog.

But now, Rachel and Jai Jay have qualified as a partnership, Jacob is transformed by his relationship with his new canine chum, life is looking so much more positive for the family from Sheffield, and Rachel says: “Getting Jai Jayy and being involved with Support Dogs is the best thing I have ever done.”

Jacob was diagnosed with autism after failing to start speaking and having very poor mobility as a toddler. He suffered from extreme anxiety even as a baby and would scream if Rachel took him outside.

“It was very hard work,” recalls Rachel, who is now back in work as a part-time support work in the renal unit at the Northern General Hospital.  “I used to work in the community as a support worker but had to quit my job as I couldn’t cope.”

Jacob struggled at nursery school and Rachel was regularly called to come and fetch him home because his behaviour was affecting other children.

Autism affected the family’s life in every way. “We persevered with him, but it wasn’t easy,” says Rachel. “On the rare occasion that we went out for meal we’d usually have to leave after half an hour. Supermarkets were a nightmare.  We could never him into the park – it was hard to even get him out of the house!

“When we went round to my mum’s house for Christmas, he would go upstairs and sit in the room out of the way, with his tablet.”

Rachel and Delton found out about Support Dogs after meeting another family who had benefited from the charity and learned about the impact it had on their lives, at an autism fair.

That positive experience persuaded Rachel to think that a dog could also help Jacob, and so it proved.

“Jacob was so excited to get Jai Jayy,” smiles Rachel. “They had an instant bond, a bond I just can’t describe. I would never have thought a dog could make such a difference.”

Unlike many young children with autism, Jacob is clingy rather than being a bolter, and doesn’t need preventing from running off into the road and harming himself. But he still gets very worked up and anxious, and Jai Jayy’s skill is to calm him down.

“Jacob is so happy to see Jai Jayy when he comes home from school, and seems happier in himself,” says Rachel.  “He’s like his best friend.”

From an educational perspective, Jacob is now making great progress. He is now able to say a few words and attends a mainstream school which has integrated resources available to children with learning difficulties and other complex needs, where he gets one to one attention but also exposure to other children.

Rachel gives a few of examples of how the family’s life has improved for the better since the arrival of Jai Jayy. “He doesn’t hide away anymore,” she says. “A friend of mine has a couple of hyperactive kids and Jacob’s never been able to cope with them. The other week she came round, and I was getting ready for him to leg it upstairs, but he just sat on the settee. Such a difference!”

Going out for meals now presents no difficulty, thanks to Jai Jayy’s attentions. They go to the park. The family have always gone to a caravan in Scarborough and Jacob could just about cope with going to the beach and coming straight back to the caravan. This year they are planning to be a bit more adventurous….

“Just having Jai Jay there just reassures Jacob, I think,” adds Rachel. “Having Jai Jayy has really changed things for us.”

Jacob has really taken to Tracey Moore, Support Dogs’ instructor who is working with him and his mum and Jayy Jai. A recent visit revealed the youngster’s sense of fun.

Tracey says: “Any time I go to visit them, Jacob takes me on the swings and slide, and we also have to do running races. On our last visit, Jacob laid at the top of the hill in the park, and announced he was going to roly-poly down the hill, but he wanted me to accompany him too. How could I refuse? So there we were rolling down the hill together - only in this job!”

Mum Rachel swallows hard and becomes emotional when asked about what qualification as an autism assistance partnership means to her and her family.  She says finally: “Everything. What Support Dogs has done for Jacob is wonderful. The trainers and instructors have been brilliant. It has been a good journey; a very positive experience.”

  • For more information about the Support Dogs’ autism assistance programme go to supportdogs.org.uk