The post below is a heartwarming letter from Rico Cannon to his son on his 9th birthday. Rico shares his experiences as that father of a son with autism and how raising Cameron inspired him to give back.
I remember the call like it was yesterday. I was washing my truck when your Meme called and said, “Your son is on the way.” I rushed to my house to get the clothes I wanted you to wear after you were born, along with your NFL football. Automatically, I was a proud Dad from the start.
You were born 9 years ago today on April 22, 2005. Ironically, the NFL draft was the next day. Football at that time was fresh in my mind, so I can’t lie…I called you my First Round Pick because I knew you had a gift that was different from the average child. You had the long legs, muscular body and hands of greatness all in one. Your smile was like that of child model ready for the cover of some magazine. At least in my eyes, because you are my son.
Everything you did as a child was so above average when I look back. You crawled, you walked, you ran and you talked all before you were even a year old. You were born to change the world in some way. As months passed, our time together became less, but nevertheless I was still as in love with you as I am today. Shortly afterwards, I noticed a change in your behavior and social interactions, but I didn’t think much of it. I figured you were just being a child.
I will never forget the day I got the call from your uncle from New York after his visit to South Carolina that previous weekend. You were around 16 months old at this time. He said, “Rico I am not sure how I can tell you this, but I observed some behaviors with Cam this weekend. I noticed how he had a fixation with some things and that he wouldn’t let go of the leaf he was playing with. He appears to have some tendencies of autism. I think you should look further into this.”
At the time, I had only heard about autism, but I immediately thought to myself, “hey, not my little boy.” Right away I went to look up characteristics of autism. I was in total disbelief. How could my innocent child with such a bright future be robbed of his mind before he has even had a chance to develop it? As I looked at the traits, my eyes began to tear (as they are now). A slow reality began to sink in. I immediately called your mother to share the disheartening news with her. As any mother would be, she was in denial for some time. But shortly afterwards, you were diagnosed with Classical Autism.
The battle then began.
As you got older, the characteristic behaviors you exemplified were sometimes different, but you were so unique in your own way and you still are today. I want you to know that although your Mother and I are no longer together in a relationship, I will always love you and your sister and brothers no less than the father I would be if I was with you every day. Through the years, you have fought a tough fight to regain what was taken from you. We know the theories now, but we also know we don’t have a cure either.
Through the different therapies you have had throughout your life, all the trips out of town to see specialist doctors, different medicines and diets and your hard work and effort, I have noticed a great change in you, young man. I would like to commend and give thanks to your mother for the great job she has done through it all – the life of dealing with a child with autism, the research, all the trips to therapies and doctors’ visits. It doesn’t go unnoticed. I thank her for that and will forever be grateful.
You aren’t even a decade old yet by age, but you sure do work like a man on a mission. I have seen it with my own eyes. There has been many struggles financially with raising you as an autistic child.
You have had grants and scholarships awarded for your ABA therapy. The cost associated is such a tremendous expense for any average family to afford. We feel like we are robbing you of time because we can’t afford it. I’m not saying it’s not fair, because life isn’t. What I will say is that I have come up with a solution. It’s not a problem if there’s a solution.
In a joint effort with my wonderful wife ,your stepmother Shalon Cannon, back in September of 2013, we started CIFA in your honor – The Cameron Isaiah Foundation for Autism. My first goal with the nonprofit organization is to get you back into the best school that money can buy and get you on track to be a successful young man in life. You will make a difference in the lives of other kids with the same challenges you have had or presently have. Next, you will be the spokesman for The Cameron Isaiah Foundation for Autism, the voice and the face.
I assure you that we will work our tails off to see that this is accomplished, my son. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was CIFA. But when it’s all said and done, you, Cameron, will have a VOICE. You will not be nonverbal all of your life, son. I promise you. (Tears)
CIFA will be strong for you and help you regain that voice that’s inside you. It’s not lost. It’s just waiting to speak to a larger audience. The one that you will help someday.
PS Happy 9th Birthday son, I will see you this weekend!