1st contestant with autism, Rachel Barcellona, to compete in Miss Florida

TAMPA-ST. PETERSBURG-SARASOTA, Fla. -- One of the main duties of any pageant winner is to inspire others.

This college student has been doing that most of her life and she's about to go for the Miss Florida crown as the first contestant with autism, reported WFLA.

"There's this negative stigma that we are these special creatures that have to be treated carefully but that is not true," said Miss Florida contestant Rachel Barcellona.

Cultivating that type of self-esteem is something that took time for Barcellona.

"I was basically promised that I would never graduate any school really or have any friends," Barcellona said.

That type of feedback didn't sit well with Rachel or her family, especially her mother.

"She was like I will be dead before that happens. So I wouldn't be anywhere without the help of my mom, who is a nurse practitioner and she is just wonderful," Barcellona said.

Barcellona started strutting across the big stage when she was just five. She waved and competed until fourth grade and then took a break.

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

Barcellona is now confidently preparing for Miss Florida later this month and already has her dresses picked out. Her operatic voice is ready for the talent portion as well.

Above all else, she has a message for the judges.

"Usually they bring up my disability. So I would say it doesn't affect me negatively and that I am very capable of inspiring people and holding a title," Barcellona said.

The autism spectrum is very broad, but Barcellona said find a spectrum that works for you.

"I would say that pageantry is also a spectrum. You have to find the right ones for you. And just go from there," she said.