By Carol Cavazos, CBS 11 News

RICHARDSON (CBSDFW.COM) – Cerebral palsy took Tanu Shivaswamy’s ability to speak, but it didn’t take away her ability to compete.

Tanu is a 5th grader at Canyon Creek Elementary in the Richardson Independent School District and uses sign language to spell all her words. That’s how she became her school’s spelling bee champ.

Wednesday, the girl her father describes as very determined faced competition from the district.

“She puts her mind to it, she will go after it,” Kiran Shivaswamy said.

Her interpreter is her voice. Kim Spiegel has known Tanu since the little girl was in the first grade. Ask Tanu if she receives A’s in spelling, and Kim Spiegel responds, “Yes. Yes. As a matter of fact almost every week, it’s 100 on the spelling test.”

Tanu learned how to spell as a toddler when other toddlers were just learning how to speak.

“We were trying to understand what she was spelling and then inevitably correct her,” Shivaswamy said.

Tanu has spelled thousands of words but never the word “phalanx,” which is a group or body in close formation. It’s the word that took her out of the district competition in the fourth round.

She said she’ll remember that word forever. And she’s already made up her mind to come back next year. Because that’s the kind of champion she is.

District winners advance to competitions at the county, state and then national level – held in June.