BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Carter Peterson was first diagnosed with epilepsy when he was just 18 months old. The Clarkston Junior High eighth grader has the condition under control with medication, but works to not let it or anything else stand in the way of living a normal life. That drive prompted the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan to nominate Peterson, who turns 14 later this month, to head to Washington D.C. next March as the foundation's representative for the Teens Speak Up event.
"I was shocked at first when I found out," said Peterson. "I think it's pretty amazing to be going there."
He'll be on Capitol Hill for a weekend to build his advocacy skills and share his story with legislators, joining the state's Teens Speak Up Ambassador Laine Richards.
Peterson's mother, Amy Peterson, who also has epilepsy, said getting this opportunity means everything for her son and her family.
"It was unanimous, the whole board having to vote," she said. "I think that's pretty cool that they all think highly of Carter and that he has put in some work to be able to go. I have a feeling he's going to come home and do some pretty cool stuff." On March 1, as part of the eventful weekend, Carter will take part in the National Walk for Epilepsy in Washington D.C. This past summer, he took part in the Stroll for Epilepsy at the Detroit Zoo to bring awareness to epilepsy.
"We've been doing that since he was 18 months old," Amy said. "We would put together a team and the first year that we went, we came with over 200 walkers and broke the record for how many walkers we had on our team. We haven't been able to go to all of them, but the stroll has been a cool family thing that we do."
Carter has also been a part of the Celebrating Abilities initiative in Southfield, an event spotlighting individuals with different talents who have epilepsy, a condition that affects approximately 1 in 26.
"As a person with epilepsy, I've learned over the years that there are limitations, very small limitations," Amy said. "The main thing with that is having the right people in your life and also advocating for yourself."
"It was kind of hard at first (to have a daily routine)," Carter added. "I would say it was hard fitting in, but since I've learned that making friends is just how you have to do it, I've been doing that and doing all the schoolwork I need to do." Carter also runs track for the school, something he said "is very fun."
The Peterson family also includes the father, Mark, and three other children, Blake, 19, Marlee, 18, and Brody, 8. Recently, one of Carter's teachers, Heather Mills, had a meeting with the family and said that she loves how Carter already knows how to advocate for himself.
"If he's behind on something or he missed something, he knows to come to (Mills) and say, 'Hey, do you need me to step out of piano class later so you can catch me up?' Amy said. "That is something that everyone should learn early in life, no matter what you struggle with."
Amy said that the Clarkston Community Schools staff has always gone above and beyond with Carter. "He has an IEP (individualized education program) in place and we meet fairly consistently to make sure that he's still getting the support that he needs," she said. "We also make sure that the teachers know what to do in case of a seizure. Clarkston schools are amazing. They may not know exactly what to do right away, but they listen and then put those things in place. Carter has had a lot of support that way." Amy said it'll be nice to get some one-on-one time with Carter.
"That doesn't happen very often," she noted. "But it'll be great for Carter to be able to tell his story and to be able to sit in on a conference that is going to show him how to be a better advocate for epilepsy. That's what's so exciting to me. He's already so very good at it, but there are things he can glean from listening to others. There will be a lot of networking that will happen, and he'll also get to see how laws are passed. He'll be right in the middle of the action."
Is Carter chomping at the bit for March to get here?
"Oh yeah," he said. "For sure."
About Clarkston Community Schools: Clarkston is a highly regarded school district with an enrollment of nearly 7,100 students. We have seven elementary schools (K-5), one middle school serving grades 6-7, one junior high for grades 8-9, and Clarkston High School, which serves students in grades 10-12. We also have an Early Childhood Center serving children ages 3-5, and an alternative high school/community education facility. Clarkston Community Schools students are well-prepared for a future that excites them, and believe that they can achieve their dreams. The mission of Clarkston Community Schools is to create a learning environment where students, staff, and families are challenged, healthy, engaged, safe, and supported.
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