As a child, graduate student Lisa Sigafoos loved Superman. And no wonder—he was the man of steel with a huge heart and capacity to do good, championing truth and justice. He clearly left an impression on her. Despite the odds of being diagnosed with dyslexia, anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and ADHD, Sigafoos has followed her heart and has used her talents to help children with special-needs. And she put in a heroic effort to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is now working on a doctorate in the College of Education.
Throughout her early school years Sigafoos taught herself to put in extra hours and work harder than anyone else in the classroom— essentially providing her own accommodations. But throughout her college career at The University of Texas at Austin, she has relied upon Services for Students with Disabilities for assistance, support and accommodation letters—even now as a doctoral student.
“I know I would have never made it without SSD,” says Sigafoos. “I owe so much to the staff there, who have been so kind.”
She reports that taking accommodation letters to a professor can be scary.
“You think, ‘Will they judge me? Will they want to provide those accommodations?’ It was always positive, though,” she says.
Sigafoos also needs a reader for tests and therefore took tests in the SSD office.
“They [SSD staff] made the transition easy as I came back to school,” she recalls. “They told me, ‘We’re here for you no matter how long you stay
After graduating from UT Austin in 2009 with a general teaching certificate, she taught for five years. She began teaching fourth and fifth grades but then began teaching second grade in the Lake Travis School District in an inclusion classroom. Sigafoos identified on some level with every student in that classroom and made the conscious decision to create a classroom that was understanding and accepting. She drew on her superheroes theme to encourage students to do their best.
“I taught them that we all have our strengths and differences but we have to stick together to help each other,” she says. “It helped my students see each other as equals whether they had a disability or not.”
Sigafoos also tried to instill a love of learning.
“They are so malleable at that age,” she explains. “You can help them see school positively, even as it starts to get difficult for them given their disability.”
But Sigafoos realized that she had not received all the training necessary to best educate students with differing abilities and went on to get a master’s degree in special education. She was surprised when professors in the Special Education Department asked if she was going on to get a doctorate. But their comments planted the seed.
Now she is the mother of a 1-year old and working on a doctorate in special education. She is also a teaching assistant in the Individual Differences course and a research associate.
“I want the knowledge and want to work to my best capacity to help students with disabilities,” Sigafoos notes. “I have found my niche in life.