Palm Harbor beauty queen with autism to speak at United Nations on World Autism Day

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PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Rachel Barcellona is a beauty queen, a singer, an actress and a student at the University of South Florida.

The 22-year-old says many of her life goals have been realized because of autism.

“I want people to know that autism does not hold me back,” says Barcellona. “It’s actually an opportunity for me to achieve my dreams.”

Barcellona will tell exactly that to diplomats from across the world when she gives a speech at the United Nations in New York City on Tuesday for World Autism Day.

“I want to use my voice to inspire hope to others,” Barcellona says. “Awareness is okay, but we need acceptance.”

Barcellona would like to be crowned Miss Florida one day. After that, she would love to get into the entertainment business by acting, although that gets frustrating.

“Autistic individuals are subjected to roles that showcase our disability in a negative light, says Barcellona, referencing movies like ‘Rain Man.’ “Is that all I’m capable of? Of course not.”

She is hoping her United Nations engagement will help change that, especially when it comes to a certain phrase.

“The phrase ‘You don’t look autistic.’ I get that all the time," says Barcellona. "And I just want to say, ‘What does autism look like to you?’”

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