Rachel Barcellona Makes History and Exemplifies “The Ability Beyond Disability”

June 24, 2019

SafeMinds Honorary Board Member Rachel Barcellona Makes History and Exemplifies Her “Ability Beyond Disability” Platform as the First Contestant in the Miss Florida Pageant with Autism

By:  SafeMinds Executive Director Lisa Wiederlight, M.P.P.

It’s hard for me to describe my friend and SafeMinds Honorary Board Member Rachel Barcellona, in any one way. Of course, she is beautiful. But Rachel has the kind of outer beauty that radiates from her inner beauty. Many people know her story that as a young girl, which Rachel relates, she was “basically promised that I would never graduate any school really or have any friends.” She also battled depression and anxiety in middle school. Her story is extraordinary, and her bravery is astounding. She has been all over the news for the past week, including being featured on CNN, on numerous local television news affiliates, and in the newspaper in Colombia, South America.

Rather than revisit what she has already conquered, we would rather describe what she has battled as a person with autism who is involved in pageants and performing. We believe this is even more descriptive of her perseverance and dedication to inspiring others, and to educating the world that autism does not have to prevent those with the diagnosis from following their dreams.

Rachel recently prepared her monthly blog for SafeMinds on the topic of autism and pageantry. In it, she relates, “It has been a long journey for me to become comfortable with myself and to conquer the sensory issues, anxiety issues, etc., that come along with such a life. I went into pageants to help with my anxiety, which ended up doing wonders for my self-esteem. I loved being onstage and wearing pretty dresses, but there were many things that were more difficult for me.”

Sensory issues affected Rachel when she first became involved in pageants. Rachel writes, “When you go to a pageant, it is very crowded and loud … but the more I was exposed to the uncomfortable atmosphere, the more these sensory issues fled from me.” She suggests, ”  … if a child with autism wants to address his/her sensory issues as well, he/she may need to get out in the world and take part in an activity that he/she is interested in.”

Anxiety has also played a part in making Rachel’s pageantry experience more difficult. She explains, “Pageantry is like a job, and the most important thing to do is to have fun with it. However, like any job, there is anxiety and I’m thankful that I was able to overcome different types, such as stage anxiety and friendship anxiety.” Rachel suggests, “With practice, people can conquer all sorts of things. It just takes courage, experience, getting involved in a favorite activity, and getting out in the world.”

Rachel has overcome so much. We know that Rachel serves as a constant reminder to everyone that there is much more to a person who has autism than his/her autism. We recently posted a blog on Rachel’s experience using CBD oil to eliminate her seizures. She has shared her love of heavy metal music, and singing opera. At our annual Fashion Rocks Autism fundraiser, Rachel sings “The Star Spangled Banner” as the show begins, and it moves almost everyone to tears. When she participates in media interviews, her grace and intelligence charms the interviewers. She is witty, has big plans for her future, and we love her for it.  We are also inspired by her parents, who, like many of us, will never let someone tell us that our children “can’t” or “won’t” because of their autism.

We are so thankful for Rachel’s advocacy efforts, and proud of how she has matured in the past four years. So now, we’re asking you to support Rachel as she chases down her dream.

Please take three minutes, and consider helping Rachel win the “People’s Choice” award in the Miss Florida pageant. Voting for Rachel takes only a dollar a vote, and you can vote as much as you’d like. We plan on showing Rachel our appreciation for her inspiration, and hope you’ll do the same.

As we do every time Rachel reaches for a new goal, we say, “Go Rachel Go!”


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