Woman to make history as first contestant with autism to compete for Miss Florida crown

A woman is breaking barriers and making history as the first contestant with autism to compete for the Miss Florida crown.

Rachel Barcellona, 22, has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. The Tampa Bay, Fla., resident will be competing in the Miss Florida pageant, beginning with the preliminary competition which is scheduled to take place in Lakeland, Fla. on June 25.

While Barcellona is preparing for the competition, she told Tampa news station WFLA-TV that she wasn’t always confident and faced backlash and negative comments growing up.

"I was basically promised that I would never graduate any school really or have any friends,” Barcellona told WFLA-TV. “Pretty much everything bad was going to happen to me because I have autism.”

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One more week until we are in California!🎉💗 #nationalamericanmiss #namnationals2018 #NAMServes #nammiss #NAM #Namily #namnfl #namnorthflorida #GrowingConfidence #PageantryWithAPurpose #futureleaders
Cheating on @harvest_and_friends with Charlie the St. Bernard! I'm in love!!! 💗💗💗💋💋💋 #dogsofinstagram #dogstagram #dogs #stbernard #harvestandfriends #cute #love #doggo
Congrats to my preschool friend for life! FSU graduation party!🎉🎉 @madspollock ❤❤ #graduadtion #fun @ozonablue #congratulations🎓 #friends
I was that child... It is my passion to continue helping make this world a better place for individuals with differing abilities! #inclusion #bekind #boldandbright #makeadifference #socialimpactstatement #abilitybeyonddisabilities #roadtomissfl #rooting4Rachel #missmanateeriver2019 #missflamerica #missfloridapageant #missamerica #roadtothecrown #missmanateeriver #missflorida #missfl #mao #missfloridaorganization #befearlessbeyou
#vintagesunday Little Rachel (2004)... I can be fashionable! 💗💗💗😊😊😊 #2000sfashion #2000s #vintage #fun #hairstyles #2000skids #90sfashion #90skids #throwback #hairart #oldphotos @2000s.pop
Still love this picture from movie premiere! We should always be grateful to our veterans and thank them, for they're an important part of our country/history! 💗💗💗💗💗 #memorialday #veterans #historylovers #americanhistory #love #thankful #missmanateeriver2019 #missflorida @missamerica #roadtomissflorida #missamerica #hugs #freehugs
Tickets are bought! So excited to have such overwhelming support!! #roadtomissfl #missmanateeriver2019 #missflamerica #missamerica #missflorida2019 #missamericaorganization #missfloridapageant #missflorida #missmanateeriver #abilitybeyonddisabilities #boldandbright #mao #strongwomen
#roadtothecrown👑 #roadtomissfl #missmanateeriver2019 #Missfloridaorganization #boldandbright #missflamerica #missflorida2019 #missamerica #missflamerica #lakeland #Florida #floridastrong #Missflorida
Off to see the kids at Tampa Pinnacle Academy! Can't wait to inspire them, and spend time with their mom's for mother's day tea. ❤❤❤ @keithwilliams128 @wynny86 @missamerica #missamericaorganization #missamerica #missmanateeriver #missmanateeriver2019 #inspire #tampapinnacleacademy #rachelbarcellona #autismacceptance #pageantlife #pageantqueen #wearenotsodifferent #roadtomissfl #autism #publicspeaking
In honor of Miss USA! Loved meeting @sarahrosesummers in New York! Thank you for inviting me! @supermodelsunlimitedmag
Off to the parade with my beautiful princess!❤👑 #desotograndparade #manatee #missmanateeriver2019 #missamericaorganization #Missfloridaorganization #roadtomissfl #missflorida2019 #MAO #parade #bradenton #Florida @missamerica #pageantqueen #pageantlife #princess
Ready for De Soto Musical and Fashion Show!! #missmanateeriver2019 #roadtomissfl #missamericaorganization #missfloridapageant #missmanateeriver #abilitybeyonddisability #acceptance
April is Autism Acceptance month! I am working toward #autismacceptance year after year!! #letskeepgoing #acceptance #autusmknowdnoborders #autism #abilitybeyonddisability #roadtomissfl #missmanateeriver2019 #missamericaorganization #missfloridapageant #manateecounty #mao #roadtomissflorida
Can't wait to go blueberry picking! #vintage #vintageclothing #vintagefashion #romper #hotpants #50s #sunhat #red #blueberry #blueberryseason #fashion @vintage_vogue @pickledvintage @adoredvintage #cute
Friends and family, If you have a business you would like to promote or if you would like to puchase advertising space for well wishes as I compete for the job of MISS FLORIDA, please message me for details! Your sponsorship means you are helping to fund the largest provider of scholarships for women in the world.
6 year old me... Loving vintage since forever! ♥️♥️♥️ @mikeyss2013 #tbt #throwbackthursday #throwback #childhood #childhoodmemories #vintage #vintageclothing #vintagefashion #vintagecar #50s #50sfashion #rachelbarcellona @frankbarcellona #pinklady #vintagechild
The day has started!!🎉🎉 #missmanateecounty #missmanatee #mao #makeadifference Not giving up!! #letsdothis
Looking forward to modeling at New York Fashion Week in just a few weeks! #newyork #newyorkcity #nyfw #beautyitseverywhere #abilitybeyonddisability #fashion #model #runway #dreams #style #travel #trend
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But this outlook on life didn’t sit well with her, or her family. Her mother was determined to make sure her daughter felt supported and was successful. Barcellona told WFLA-TV her mother wasn’t going to let things slide.

"She was like, ‘I will be dead before that happens,’” she told the news outlet. “So I wouldn't be anywhere without my mom, who is a nurse practitioner, and she is just wonderful, I love her.”

Barcellona is also thankful for public support and the chance to be able to share her story and lift up people will disabilities.

“Public opinion and support have been amazing!” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I am so happy to be sharing my story and my true hope is to help other's not only with autism but with all disabilities to realize their dreams.”

In an Instagram post, Barcellona acknowledged how important the support of others has been in her journey. 

As for her talent, Barcellona is studying voice and is an opera singer.

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Notable people with Autism and Asperger's syndrome
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Notable people with Autism and Asperger's syndrome

Actor Dan Aykroyd revealed that he was diagnosed with Tourettes and Asperger’s syndrome after being diagnosed in the 1980s. 

“I also have Asperger’s but I can manage it. It wasn’t diagnosed until the early eighties when my wife persuaded me to see a doctor. One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement — I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born," he said

While filmmaker Tim Burton hasn't publically discussed it, his ex-wife Helena Bonham Carter has spoken about the artist possibly being on the spectrum. 

"We were watching a documentary about autism and he said that’s how he felt as a child," Bonham Carter said in an interview. "Autistic people have application and dedication. You can say something to Tim when he’s working and he doesn’t hear you. But that quality also makes him a fantastic father, he has an amazing sense of humor and imagination. He sees things other people don’t see.”

Jerry Seinfeld revealed to Brian Williams in 2014 that he believe's he's "on the spectrum." 

"I think, on a very drawn-out scale, I think I'm on the spectrum," Seinfeld said

"You know, never paying attention to the right things," says Seinfeld. "Basic social engagement is really a struggle," he explained. "I'm very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don't know what they're saying. But I don't see it as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset."

Singer Susan Boyle revealed in 2013 that she was diagnosed with Aspergers. 

"It was the wrong diagnosis when I was a kid," she said. "I was told I had brain damage. I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself," " the singer said.

"It’s a condition that I have to live with and work through, but I feel more relaxed about myself. People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do."

Actress Daryl Hannah has Asperger's, which she was diagnosed with when she was a child. 

"Going to the Academy Awards was so painful for me. I'd almost faint just walking down the red carpet. I was so socially awkward and uncomfortable that I eventually got blacklisted," she said in 2010

"American Idol" star and singer James Durbin has been very public about his Tourettes and Asperger’s syndrome.

“I had no one to look up to like this growing up,” he said to People in July 2016. “When I was a kid, I knew I was different. I liked things no one else liked, and I was always very angry about having this. I hated it and wished it would go away. But now I want to be living proof that different is awesome.”

The "Community" and "Adult Swim" creator Dan Harmon said he discovered he has a form of Asperger's while doing research for the character Abed. 

He said in 2011, "I started looking up these symptoms just to know what they are. And the more I looked them up, the more familiar they started to seem.” 

Comedian Hannah Gadsby was diagnosed with autism "a few years back," and since then, the Australian native has been open about her process coming to terms with the diagnosis. 

"Once I got diagnosed, there was a certain amount of grief and confusion. Because when you think, 'oh now I have this framework,' and it was crystal clear as soon as I got diagnosed," she explained

 "The understanding of things just started falling into place and I was like, 'yep.'"

After marrying in 2018, comedian Amy Schumer revealed during her second Netflix special that her husband Chris Fischer has Asperger's.

"My husband was diagnosed with what used to be called Asperger's. He has autism spectrum disorder. He's on the spectrum. And there were some signs early on," the star said during her show. "It dawned on me how funny it was, because all of the characteristics that make it clear that he’s on the spectrum are all of the reasons that I fell madly in love with him.”

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“I'm continuing to work on my vocals and I'm singing ‘Climb Every Mountain,’ which is a very meaningful song and I hope it inspires others,” she said.

Barcellona told Yahoo Lifestyle that her goal is to “inspire others and to teach them that they should never give up on their dreams.”

While she’s focusing on becoming Miss Florida, pageants aren’t her only passion. Barcellona is a spokesperson for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of South Florida, and also is on their advocacy board. She was named an ambassador for Unicorn Children’s Foundation, which is a non-profit organization helping children and young adults with developmental, communication and learning disorders.

Barcellona is not the first competitor with autism to participate in the pageant world. In 2013, 18-year-old Alexis Wineman won the “America’s Choice” award at the Miss America pageant, where she was the first-ever contestant with autism. She was named Miss Montana in 2012.

Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to representatives for the Miss Florida competition and will update this post when we hear back.

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Miss USA 2018 contest
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Miss USA 2018 contest
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Hosts Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey talk during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan Thomas walks the red carpet at the Shreveport Convention Center prior to the 2018 Miss USA on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Hosts Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey talk during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss North Carolina Caelynn Millers-Keyes participates in the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Caselynn Millers-Keyes was the runner-up in the competition. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Host Nick Lachey talks with Miss South Dakota Madison Nipe during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers poses for a photo after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers poses for a photo with Miss Universe president, Paula Shugart, after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss North Carolina Caelynn Millers-Keyes answers a question with host Nick Lachey during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss North Carolina Caelynn Miller-Keyes answers questions for hosts Nick Lachey and Vaessa Lachey during of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nevada Carolina Urrea answers questions for hosts Nick Lachey and Vaessa Lachey during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Host Nick Lachey speaks to the audience during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Hosts Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey talk during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss North Carolina Caelynn Millers-Keyes participates in the evening gown portion of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Montana Dani Walker participates in the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Caselynn Millers-Keyes was the runner-up in the competition. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss North Carolina Caelynn Millers-Keyes participates in the swimsuit portion of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss South Dakota Madison Nipe competes in the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Hosts Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey talk during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Maryland Brittinay Nicolette participates in the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Caselynn Millers-Keyes was the runner-up in the competition. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates with Miss North Carolina Caelynn Millers-Keyes after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss North Carolina Caelynn Millers-Keyes participates in the evening gown portion of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss South Dakota Madison Nipe competes in the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Country music singer Lee Brice performs during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers competes in the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers (R) answers questions for hosts Nick Lachey (L) and Vanessa Lachey (C) during of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey host the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers (R) answers questions for hosts Nick Lachey (L) and Vanessa Lachey (C) during of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey host the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey host the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers answers questions with host Nick Nachey during the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers competes in the swimsuit portion of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers competes in the evening gown portion of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers competes in the evening gown portion of the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers (L) celebrates with Miss North Carolina Caelynn Millers-Keyes after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers is crowned by Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough, Miss Universe 2017 Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters and Miss Teen USA 2018 Hailey Colborn after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers is crowned by Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough, Miss Universe 2017 Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters and Miss Teen USA 2018 Hailey Colborn after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SHREVEPORT, LA - MAY 21: Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
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