Rachel is a pageant girl with a ton of heart who’s showing our community that you don’t have to be defined your disability! Rachel currently is a singer, actress, model, writer and an autism advocate. When she three she was diagnosed PDD-NOS and another doctor later diagnosed her with Asperger’s. This year she graduated from high school with distinction and honors as well as winning the Principle’s award. Rachel was also the latest recipient of the Spring 2015 Honorable Mention Scholarship Award Winner from KFM Making a Difference.
We recently talked to Rachel about what’s she been up too in the pageant world, and as an autism advocate…
Kerry: Hey Rachel! Can you please tell us a bit about how you get involved in the autism community?
Rachel: I have been involved in the autism community from a young age. My mom always tried to get me involved in things to improve my social skills and help me be the best I could be. I started volunteering and working with The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities when I was 14.
How did getting involved with pageants become an interest to you?
I got involved in pageants because my mom was looking for a way to get me out of the house and to help with social skills and make friends. We went to social skills groups but there were mostly boys there and we didn’t have a lot in common. I also had very low self esteem. The pageants I have been involved in teach girls a lot of valuable life skills. I have heard it compared with playing a sport. We learn to work together. The competition is not against each other, but more to do your own personal best with the help of your friends. They have taught me how to be articulate and to speak and sing in front of an audience and have taught me interview skills that have helped me and will continue to help as I look for a job. Also I have created my platform the ability beyond disabilities because of pageantry and have been able to create even more autism awareness around the entire state.
We heard you recently graduated from high school! What advice would you share to other high school students with autism who are currently pursuing graduation?
For kids in high school, I would say, work hard and do your best. Find a group or club that interests you because thats a great way to make friends! For me I loved drama and choir and found people with similar interests and made friends. All of us have different interests but most high schools have a lot of clubs and activities to participate in. Most importantly though remember to be yourself! I am so pleased to be starting college this fall.
What do you hope to be able to do when you grow up both in your personal career and also as an autism advocate?
I am going to pursue my PhD in psychology as well as become a sign language interpreter. I am going to do my prerequisites at St. Petersburg College and after two years transfer to the University of South Florida. I intend to work with children with disabilities when I graduate from College. I am also currently working on a book series called “Klementine Castle.” I am hoping to see it published! I am also planning to continue being an autism advocate, and would love to travel the country to speak at conventions and autism events.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I believe that everyone has a valuable part on this earth. Some of us have to go about things in different ways. I have never let other people define what my dreams should be and I have been fortunate to have a supportive family. I truly believe I can show the world that those of us with differing abilities may have to walk a different path but don’t have to be determined by the depth and breadth of our dreams. I want to continue to be involved with autism advocacy and break the stereotype of autism and be able to show people with disabilities that their dreams can come true!