A young woman is set to make history by becoming the first with autism to compete in Miss Florida. It is a dream come true for her mother who has always had high hopes for her daughter’s future.
Rachel Barcellona faced a lot of negative feedback while growing up.
“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,” Barcellona told WFLA.
But her family, especially her mother, never stopped believing in her abilities.
“She was like, ‘I will be dead before that happens.’ So I wouldn’t be anywhere without my mom who is a nurse practitioner and she is just wonderful. I love her,” explained Barcellona.
Help us cheer on @BarcellonaR! She’s such an inspiration. The @USouthFlorida student is set to be the first woman with autism to compete in the Miss Florida pageant! #Autism #Florida #InspiringWomen https://t.co/L8Wruex8Bj pic.twitter.com/DDtmqUu53Q
— 10News WTSP (@10NewsWTSP) June 7, 2019
Because of her family’s and mother’s encouragement, Barcellona started competing in pageants when she was five and did that until she was in fourth grade. After that, she took a break.
“I had depression and anxiety in middle school, so then I resumed when I was thirteen and that is when I really got into it because it helped me make friends and build my confidence,” she said.
Since then, Barcellona has come a long way and is now set to contest in Miss Florida scheduled from June 25 to June 29.
She’s a junior at the University of South Florida and is the current Miss Manatee River.
Her Twitter profile describes her as a board member for USF Center for Autism, the ambassador for the Unicorn Children’s Foundation, a writer and a singer.
WHAT AN AWESOME VISITOR! @BarcellonaR joined @KatieMcCallWTSP tonight to talk about her Miss Florida journey! Rachel is the first woman with autism to compete in the pageant. You go, Rachel!https://t.co/IYmWKdNsRJ pic.twitter.com/ShBVVM1aNe
— 10News WTSP (@10NewsWTSP) June 8, 2019
WFLA reports that Barcellona is all geared for the pageant and has got her opera voice ready for the competition.
“I like this purple interview dress with the bows,” Barcellona told the network.
She has a message for the pageant judges.
“Usually they bring up my disability. So I would say it doesn’t affect me negatively and I am very capable of inspiring people and holding a title,” she said.
“I would say that pageantry is also a spectrum. You have to find the right ones for you. And just go from there because it can really really make a girl more confident and empower her to be an amazing woman.”
“Awareness is OK, but we need acceptance,” Rachel Barcellona saidhttps://t.co/Mw642IgBCd
— CNN (@CNN) June 8, 2019
Autism in the United States
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 59 children in the United States have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and it is reported in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. Parents that have a child with autism have a 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child born with ASD.
Children born to older parents have a greater risk of being born with autism, according to Autism Speaks.
Almost 44 percent of children born with ASD have average or above average intelligence.