In this undated photo, Wilson Shannon gathers with his family in Smyrna, Tenn. Shannon has been named Father of Year by the Tennessee Justice Center (Photo submitted)
A single father from Smyrna is being honored as a 2013 Father of Year by the Tennessee Justice Center.
Wilson Shannon is receiving the award in recognition of his persistence in battling to obtain medical services for his son Eli Shannon and for his commitment to the health care of all children and families, according to a press release.
He is one of eight honorees from across the state who are receiving the award.
“Wilson Shannon’s devotion to Eli (Shannon) and his persistence in fighting for what he needs is a courageous example of how Tennessee fathers bravely stand up for the rights of their children who are sick or have disabilities,” said Michele Johnson, the managing attorney for the Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit public interest law and advocacy firm based in Nashville.
Eli Shannon is a vibrant 10-year-old, she said. He likes reading, drawing pictures, and playing in the park near his home in Smyrna. When he was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with autism.
Because of his condition, he sometimes displays difficult or harmful behaviors like gritting his teeth, trying to leave without permission or head-butting others.
Center officials said Wilson Shannon not only works two jobs to support his four children, but he has also been a tireless advocate to help Eli Shannon get the treatment he needs.
Eli Shannon gets a treatment called applied behavioral analysis therapy, which helps him deal with his problem behaviors. The therapy has really helped him, and for a period of time, Eli Shannon's therapist was able to gradually decrease the amount of he received, according to officials.
Last year, however, Eli Shannon faced many significant changes in his home life, which caused his problem behaviors to increase.
In response to these increases, his therapist suggested that Eli Shannon would benefit from additional treatment sessions to help him deal with the changes at home. The therapy is designed to evaluate and help alleviate environmental factors like those that were affecting Eli Shannon.
In spite of his worsening condition, his TennCare HMO informed the family that Eli Shannon did not need the additional hours.
His therapist filed a TennCare appeal for him and called the Tennessee Justice Center for help. After reviewing the case, officials with the organization decided to advocate for Eli Shannon and represent him at a hearing about his therapy in December.
Wilson Shannon courageously talked about his son's needs and his dangerous behaviors in front of the court.
In January, an administrative law judge ruled that Eli Shannon did not need the services, but Wilson Shannon and the Justice Center have vowed to keep fighting and are continuing to pursue his appeal.
“Despite the many obstacles these caregivers face in obtaining the care that their children need, and taxpayers have already paid for them to receive, their commitment to fighting for their children is steadfast," Johnson said. "Our annual recognition acknowledges their sacrifices and dedication to their children.”
She said Wilson Shannon's perseverance and courage in the face of tremendous obstacles is the result of his profound love for his children and his tenacity as an advocate.
Wilson Shannon said he believes that Eli Shannon is worth fighting for and that every child with autism should have access to the health care he or she needs.
“It is hard to think that someone else has control of my child’s ability to get care he needs," Wilson Shannon said. "It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it for Eli.”
For additional information about the Tennessee Justice Center and its services, visit www.tnjustice.org or call 615-255-0331.