People have a lot of misconceptions about those around us living with autism. However, one woman is proving that just because you carry a certain societal label doesn’t mean you should ever stop trying to pursue your dreams.
Meet Rachel Barcellona. The 22-year-old who is set to become the first ever pageant contestant with autism to make it into the Miss Florida competition.
After winning her local Miss Manatee River competition in the Tampa Bay area, she will now go on to compete in the statewide pageant, the winner of which will gain entry into the nationwide Miss America pageant.
Rachel’s primary talent? Opera singing.
She has always loved to sing ever since she was very young, and she has been competing in pageants as an opera singer since she was five years old.
In a recent interview with People, Rachel elaborated on how her participation in opera has been like a form of therapy for her.
“I’ve been going to operas, and that has been another thing, a form of autism therapy. Just going out in the world, going to operas to help me conquer my fear of loud noise because I recall when I was little I would hate fire alarms, and I would just go to operas, and of course, they’re very loud,” said Rachel.
After attending operas as a child is when she first realized she wanted to sing.
She also discussed what it was like being crowned Miss Manatee River.
“I thought it was surreal because I tried very hard to win that title, and it was in that moment that I thought people believe in me and I just want to keep moving forward,” said Rachel.
Although, there have been a lot of hurdles that Rachel has had to overcome along the way to get to this point.
When she was young, many people tried to tell her that because of her diagnosis, she would never be able to accomplish anything.
“I was basically promised that I would never graduate any school really or have any friends. Pretty much everything bad was going to happen to me because I have autism,” Rachel told WFLA.
However, Rachel never listened, and ultimately, defied them all.
She proved that those with disabilities should never view their diagnosis as a limitation.
Throughout her participation in pageants, Rachel has always preached a message of inclusion and has served as an amazing role model for young girls and boys everywhere. It is very admirable what she has been able to accomplish over the years.
When asked what she thought was the biggest misconception about autism, Rachel had a very insightful answer.
“I would say the biggest one is that we’re all the same,” said Rachel. “…more often than not, people with autism are portrayed as the boy that is very high on the spectrum, and all he knows is how to calculate numbers, and he has no empathy for others, but that’s not true.”
Her mission is to serve as a voice for woman everywhere with autism and let the world know that you can’t just fit all people living with autism into one specific box.
“Autism is not just one face, it is an entire spectrum,” Rachel said.
They are all unique individuals each with their own individual personalities — “so many different types of people.”
Lastly, Rachel mentioned that the real disability is to see yourself as a victim.
Pageants made her into who she is today and taught her to always be strong and to keep moving forward no matter what.
Rachel is doing such a great job of spreading awareness of autism, and she has blossomed into quite an amazing young woman. We wish her the best of luck as she goes on to compete in the Miss Florida competition in the upcoming weeks.
Watch Rachel Barcellona’s full interview with People below.
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