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Florida woman becomes first contestant with autism to compete in Miss Florida

Rachel Barcellona says competing has given her friends and confidence

Courtesy of WFLA
Courtesy of WFLA

TAMPA, Fla. – A Tampa woman is making history as she becomes the first person with autism to compete in the Miss Florida pageant. 

Rachel Barcellona received negative feedback throughout her high school career, which didn't sit well with her and her family, according to WFLA.

"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 said. 

Barcellona pushed past the negativity and ensured everyone that she would never let that happen. 

At the age of 5, Barcellona began strutting across the stage and competed in pageants until fourth-grade. 

"I had depression and anxiety in middle school, so then I resumed when I was 13, and that is when I really got into it because it helped me make friends and build my confidence," Barcellona said. 

Now, Barcellona is competing in the Miss Florida pageant later this month. She already has her dress picked out. 

The college student also has a message for the 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," Barcellona 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."

The Miss Florida preliminary will be held June 25.