The Story of Shawn

Sometimes, when I take Horton for a walk, there are children outside playing. Horton loves kids. And every time a kid walks toward Horton and me, they stop about five feet away and break their eye-contact with Horton just long enough to ask my permission to pet him.

“May I pet your dog?” All of them, as if born knowing the proper way to approach a person with a dog, ask permission.

All of them, except for Shawn.

Shawn is a six-year-old boy whose family lives in the same condominium complex as me. He has the coloring of a Campbell’s soup can, pale white skin and brilliant red hair.

And he has Autism.

Shawn has the type of Autism that your mind goes to first when you think of a small boy with the disorder. The type that makes you wonder if his enormous unblinking eyes understand what is happening around him.

Shawn doesn’t ask permission to pet Horton because Shawn doesn’t talk. Save for a few words like Mom, Dad, no and more, Shawn communicates through grunts and gestures. His father, Jeff, serves as translator. His eyes never leave Shawn. Even when he is talking to me, Jeff is transfixed on every action of his little boy.

Jeff smiles most broadly when Shawn smiles. Shawn smiles the most when Horton is licking the pale faded streaks of Blue Moon ice cream off Shawn’s face.

Like Shawn, Horton doesn’t ask permission to do that.

But Shawn laughs and Jeff laughs and I smile.

This is how it goes on our evening walks. If Shawn has finished his dinner and, of course his ice cream, and if he happens to be playing outside, he walks, silent and smiling, to Horton and me.

Every other kid asks permission. “May I pet your dog?”

Shawn doesn’t ask permission to pet Horton because Shawn doesn’t talk, save for those few words.

Except now, when Jeff says it’s time to go, Shawn lowers his chin and gives the friendly black dog a kiss on the nose and says, “Horton.”