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Giuffrida Succeeds Against all Odds

August 21, 2013

Danielle Giuffrida  
Danielle Giuffrida at the Florissant Valley Access

Danielle Giuffrida has overcome many obstacles to achieve success in her lifetime.

Prior to her first birthday, Giuffrida was diagnosed with spastic hemiplegia cerebral palsy (SHCP), a neuromuscular condition of spasticity that results in the muscles on one side of the body being in a constant state of contraction. As a result, the left side of her body is affected.

Once her diagnosis was made, she began attending United Cerebral Palsy-STL.

There, Giuffrida underwent extensive physical and occupational therapy. Walking was delayed until the age of two.

In addition to long days of hard work at United Cerebral Palsy, Giuffrida continued physical and occupational therapy at home under her parents’ administration.

Unfortunately, Giuffrida was dealt another setback. She was diagnosed as learning disabled in the first grade. She says that one of her earliest memories regarding her learning disability was her first grade teacher telling her that she was dumb and stupid.

Immediately after this incident, Giuffrida was removed from the school.

Her parents then enrolled her at Miriam School -- a private special education facility. However, her parents were not pleased with her progress, and she moved on to attend St. Wenceslaus.

“My parents were pleased with this decision, and I thrived while I was there,” she said.

Giuffrida says that she never felt as if she were treated any differently by her sister and brother. For many other reasons, Giuffrida went on to attend Sappington Elementary.

“My K-5 years were emotionally hard. I dealt with a lot of bullying and teasing due to my leg braces, and for being singled out to leave the regular classroom setting to attend modified classes,” Giuffrida said.

In middle school, Giuffrida had the opportunity to attend a regular education class.

“This is when I realized that special education students and regular education students were not being taught from the same curriculum,” she said.

Upon entering high school, she continued to take modified classes, but  had the chance to take regular education classes as well that year.

“When I was a senior, I decided that I wanted to go to college, so I took all regular education classes in my last year,” she said.

Sadly, the option of college was never offered to her. She had to be the one to speak up and say she wanted to attend college. She wanted more for herself and did not want to work for a minimum wage for the rest of her life.

In fall 2003, Giuffrida embarked on the own path and began classes at St. Louis Community College. She spent three years taking developmental courses. 

Nevertheless, she persevered. In spring 2008, Giuffrida graduated with an associate degree in general transfer studies. She moved on to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work.

After a two-year stint working for the Florissant Valley Access Office, Giuffrida now is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Washington University.

“My ultimate career goal is to make changes to the Special School District, in order to ensure that individuals with disabilities are receiving equal opportunities and the necessary support required to reach their maximum potential,” Giuffrida said.