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A World Autism Awareness Day celebration of reconnecting through football and friendship

Kevin Naylor (left) and his friend Cameron (right) Kevin Naylor (left) and his friend Cameron (right) - Dave Naylor

On this World Autism Awareness Day, I’d like to share an uplifting story about my son, Kevin, and his friend, Cameron.

Kevin and Cameron met roughly 10 years ago when they were together in a Grade 8 class for students with autism. Cameron was among the high-functioning students, and Kevin, well, he was not.

Kevin has the ability to speak in words and understand most of what is said to him. But he is not adept at conversation and doesn’t have the ability to navigate the world by himself.  

When they were in school together, Cameron would pay attention to the things he knew would be hard for Kevin, like fire alarm drills. On those days he would make sure to sit near Kevin to help keep him calm when the noise began.

Cameron went on from Grade 8 to graduate from high school and attend community college. He has a job at a car dealership.

Kevin stayed in high school until he was 21 and then moved directly to an adult day program, which he attends to this day.

Cameron and Kevin had not seen each other in almost a decade when one day I received a direct message on my X (formerly Twitter) app.

Cameron watches a lot of TSN and would see me on the air talking football. He wondered how Kevin was doing, so one day he decided to reach out and ask.


Kevin Naylor (left) and his friend Cameron (right)
Cameron is truly Kevin’s friend, and he’s a darn good one.

I hadn’t seen Cameron since their Grade 8 graduation, so he had to remind me who he was and how he knew my son.

I would get periodic messages from Cameron from that point on, often commenting on something I was doing on TSN and always asking about Kevin.

A little while later, we became Facebook friends. That gave me a glimpse into Cameron’s life. He seemed to be a very positive young man with a tremendous love of sports, especially football.

That’s when I had an idea. I invited Cameron over to see Kevin.

Cameron arrived late one afternoon, and the two young men sat at the kitchen table together. I talked to Cameron and asked him about his life and what he’d been doing over the past decade.

As the three of us went for a walk that day, he filled my ears with questions about Kevin that my son couldn’t answer for himself.

Here was someone who understood Kevin and understood autism.

I invited Cameron to start spending time with Kevin, especially during times when I’m tied up with work and can’t pay him as much attention as I would like. 

Cameron loved the idea. And in that moment, a friendship was reborn.

Cameron and Kevin spend time together every week. They go for walks, they play video games, they do jigsaw puzzles, they watch movies together and they go for ice cream. 

A short while after this began, I asked Kevin one day, “Who is Cameron?”

He gave me one-word answer back, a word he has never applied to anyone else in his life.

“Friend,” he said.  

Cameron is truly Kevin’s friend, and he’s a darn good one.

Kevin and Cameron’s reunion includes the coincidence that Cameron has a near-obsession with the subject that consumes much of my time – football.

It is common for many people with autism to develop very focused interests or skills.

For Kevin, it is 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, which he knocks-off by the dozen over the course of a month.

For Cameron it’s watching any kind of football – college football, NFL football and his beloved Toronto Argonauts, for whom he is a season-ticket holder and serious fan, attending every home game and viewing events for road games.

So yes, I knew we were going to get along.

Cameron loves to talk to me about all sports, but especially football, and the things I’ve seen and places I go for my job. I love to share my stories with him, text him photos from my travels, and occasionally bring him souvenirs. 

Cameron has become one of the most important people in Kevin’s world and has changed his life. 

That’s my celebration on this World Autism Awareness Day.

Autism is a journey, one where it’s important to celebrate little miracles along the way.