As a 7th grader in the Forest Hills Public School District, Cameron Weatherford gets to experience life in a unique way. Like many of his classmates, he’s enrolled in choir and robotics and has spent time in the pool for swimming lessons. He’s a fan of the beach, loves to laugh and enjoys dressing up for Halloween as much as the next kid.
However, Cam, as he’s known to friends, has cerebral palsy, and that means he is taking a somewhat different road through life – a road he travels with his power wheelchair. Living with a disability can be challenging, but Cam and his parents, Chris and Jane, have encountered many people and organizations who help lighten the load by providing support and resources.
MI-UCP, formerly United Cerebral Palsy of Detroit & Michigan, is one of those organizations. Offering a portal of resources to families on issues such as guardianship, insurance and finances, MI-UCP has helped in the Weatherford family learn and adapt to life with cerebral palsy. Recently, the family was named a MI-UCP Success Story, and Cam is now featured on the organization’s website.
Disorder Affects Ability to Move
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common motor disabilities in childhood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a disorder that makes movement difficult.
Some people, with minor cases of cerebral palsy, may have an awkward gait but otherwise not have any outward sign of a disability. Others may never walk independently and need a wheelchair for mobility. Cerebral palsy can also be accompanied by other conditions such as seizures, an intellectual disability or problems with vision, hearing or speech.
The cause of cerebral palsy is usually not known, but Jane Weatherford stresses it’s not a disease you can catch. In Cam’s case, he was born premature at 30 weeks via an emergency c-section. That may have caused the cerebral palsy, but there is no way to know for sure.
“We tend to lean on the positive side of life,” Jane explains. Rather than dwell on the how and why, the family focuses on the here and now. She says disability or not, “You love your child unconditionally.”
Community Support: To Give and To Receive
Over the years, the Weatherford family has been given the opportunity to meet amazing people and make a difference in the lives of others.
“Mary Free Bed became a vital part of our existence,” Jane notes. The family encountered fabulous therapists there who have helped address Cam’s motor control issues. To give back, Jane has coordinated a Halloween Heroes event at the hospital for the past five years.
While the event couldn’t occur last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it typically involves volunteers making up to 30 costumes for those in wheelchairs. Children choose whatever costume they would like, and the sky is the limit. Then, everyone celebrates the holiday with a special parade to show off their costumes. Jane says, “That has been the most rewarding project I have ever worked on in my life.”
Meanwhile, Alternatives in Motion was a much-needed ally while the family worked to get insurance coverage for Cam’s power wheelchair. “The insurance game is ridiculous,” according to Jane. “It was a one-year journey to get a power wheelchair.”
For now, Cam enjoys spending time with his good friend Brody Cole, who is the namesake for Brody’s Be Café in Ada. He has also connected with the therapy program at Grand Valley State University where he earns a paycheck for his work with students there.
However, the future holds unknown challenges, particularly since Cam is an only child. “We were very concerned about what it will be like when he gets older,” Jane says. That’s where MI-UCP was able to help. The organization offers a comprehensive portal of information as well as services such as benefits counseling, grants for assistive technology and a representative payee program.
Acceptance and Inclusion for Everyone
Raising a child with a disability can be challenging for parents, and Jane says nothing is more welcome than a smile and hello from others.
It can be an isolating experience to be out and about and feel as though people avoid you because they don’t know what to say or do. She encourages people to take the time to greet children with disabilities in the same way they would reach out to any other child they encounter in the store, at the playground or elsewhere.
Even if the child doesn’t respond to your greeting, the adult with them with undoubtedly appreciate the gesture. “Guaranteed: you’ll be making that parent’s day,” Jane says. Kindness won’t erase the difficulties associated with a disability, but don’t underestimate its positive impact.
Visit the MI-UCP website to read more about Cam’s story and see photos of the family in action. MI-UCP has also put together the following video highlighting the Weatherford family.