We Never Gave Up

by Victoria, Fort Bend High School Student & Miss Teen America contestant

I have spent my life battling dyslexia, autism, dysgraphia, sensory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, developmental vision, and multiple other known learning disorders. I believe students can overcome disabilities without having to bang their heads against a table for someone to listen.

I am writing in hopes of helping others like me. Countless opportunities were missed when class pull-outs were denied to me because I didn’t have a label. Did any of the labels that I just told you about matter? Any one of them could have been called a rock. It took years to get all of my rocks (labels). It doesn’t take a geologist to know a rock.

Imagine being fit for a triathlon but needing someone to hold your rocks while you swim. Meanwhile, a man in a suit with his arms crossed is looking down at you saying they will only hold your rocks once your head is under the water long enough to prove that you failed and will drown… That was my life.

For me, a pull-out at school was time for a para-professional to explain materials or re-read information for understanding and to answer questions. In a perfect world, a para-professional would be a certified staff member, but sometimes it is just a caring person that can hold my rocks while the people that could help are tangled in red tape.

They didn’t need to fully know me to offer a pull-out. Instead, the school gave me a counselor for stress. By 6th grade, my tests showed 99.8% of students could read more fluently and 94% more accurately than I could. The school labels and procedures cost us all a lot of time and money.

There are so many laws and so little common sense in our “wait for failure model.” We were told, “Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS) under the 2004 re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) allows local education agencies up to 15% of their IDEA funding Part B Sections 611 and 619 funds to provide scientifically based CEIS to children without a disability in grades K-12.” So, the money was there.

I needed a caring para-professional to keep me from drowning until they understood me. The current guidance emphasizes whether “the child is not achieving adequately, meeting state-approved grade-level standards and underachievement is not due to lack of appropriate instruction.” We paid dearly privately not to fail. The sacrifice for that was not getting help until labeled.

This underfunded system is broken at the foundation because it prioritizes assistance to students not achieving at grade level standards. What about kids like me studying countless hours refusing to give up on finding a geode in my rock pile? I don’t think it was time well spent for anyone. We need to strengthen early intervention funding to screen for developmental delays and not exclude hard working students during the identification process for getting para-professional assistance. There are others kid stuck in the maze.

The system did eventually work for me. I am now a high school honor roll student with no modifications. The process was brutal, but WE NEVER GAVE UP.