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Role Models for Women with Autism: Gloria Mendoza and Rachel Barcellona

Author: Merrick Egber (October 2018) I would like to thank our Foundation, for having another great experience at the largest fundraising event of the year, our own Golf Challenge Grand Finale.

I especially would like to congratulate our latest  Els for Autism Spectrum Award Winner, Adam Jones! It was great getting to meet him, and his family, and to be able to converse with him about a topic near to our hearts, the state of Maryland.

This article, however, is about a subject that has been a long time to come and that I apologize for not getting to sooner, the subject of “women with autism”.

Women, who happen to have autism, are one of the biggest topics facing the community today. Due to societal expectations, and the general nature of what it has always been to be a woman, it is a lot harder to get the proper diagnosis and treatment for those with the condition, than for men, and many times it may be delayed. When they do speak up in the community though, they can be noteworthy personalities, from Temple Grandin to Susan Boyle, to the thousands of views on Youtube videos of female personalities explaining the subject, to two prior Els for Autism Spectrum Award Winners, Gloria Mendoza (2016) and Rachel Barcellona (2017), both of whom I managed to get interviews with for this article.

GloriaMs. Mendoza is perhaps most well-known to our readers for being the public face of one of the Foundation’s most significant partners, SAP, for their Autism at Work Program, a well-recognized program to hire people with autism in the tech world. Ms. Mendoza, through her father reading an article from the Economist, rose through the ranks of SAP rapidly from an internship to a full-time position in a few months, and recently has completed many outreach efforts, even speaking at a SAP TechEd talk to “give advice to employers and employees on the spectrum”.  This was featured on a CBS Sunday Morning segment to talk about her experiences, found here:


Rachel BarcellonaMiss Florida International 2016, and also the National American Miss (NAM) Florida for this year, Rachel Barcellona is a real role model in her community. Currently enrolled at the University of South Florida, she is majoring in International Studies, in hopes that she could become a Global ambassador to the UN. She is also a writer, finishing a children’s book called “Blubbingsworth’s Big Friendship”, and is currently working on a meditation on autism in the Victorian era called “The Silence of Sylvia Kane Currently she is working at the University of South Florida – Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (or USF – CARD) and the Unicorn Children’s Foundation, where she says that it’s fun to showcase the benefits of neurodiversity, to raise money to help people, and to show that anyone with autism can accomplish their dreams. ”. If that wasn’t enough, Rachel is also an accomplished singer.

When asked about winning the awards, the responses were positive. Gloria recognizes it as one of the proudest moments in her life. Shortly after she sang the National Anthem at the 2016 Els for Autism Golf Challenge in Philadelphia, PA, this event allowed her to view herself as a “role model to everyone on the spectrum, both young and old”, along with finding it a “very emotional and touching experience”. Because of  winning the Spectrum Award, she got to attend more Els for Autism Foundation events, grew more relationships with people, and found that, due to her award-winning status, she “couldn’t be happier in her life now.” Rachel saw it as a “wonderful” experience, a loving one, and that when she gave the award to Adam Jones (2018 Els for Autism Spectrum Award winner), she felt so happy giving it to an “equally deserving member”. The impact of winning the award was to show to a lot of people that she could do a lot of “amazing things”, and just because she has a disability doesn’t exclude her from doing them.

What was it like growing up with autism, especially as women? There were, of course, challenges. Rachel was told that she would be severely limited in what she could do, and Gloria had to overcome social challenges and educational ones through the help of “therapy, plenty of social skills training” and “accommodations” at school needing extended time on tests and being in a room with little to no distractions. Being women raises similar concerns, due to the historical treatment of women and the need to prove themselves as being as good as, if not better than men, even on socialization and communication, many women with autism hide who they really are, which will limit their progress in life. Even though Claire Danes played Temple Grandin in the movie of the same name, almost all portrayals, or at least well-known portrayals, from Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”, to Keir Gilchrist in “Atypical” to Freddie Highmore in “The Good Doctor”, of autistic characters have been men.

Rachel wants to change the paradigm through “The Silence of Sylvia Kane” by creating a heroine who is autistic, suffering from Childhood Degenerative Disorder, a form that is hardly talked about, who has to survive being accused of witchcraft in the Victorian era, and if there would be a movie made about the story, she would love to play the heroine. As I’ve told her, if Lynda Carter, a former Miss America, can be Wonder Woman, she can play Sylvia Kane. When she went to a Writer’s Conference to showcase “Blubbingsworth’s Big Friendship” and “Sylvia Kane”, so many people were enthusiastic about seeing the latter become a published work, and it is Rachel’s dream to be a published mainstream author.

What do they want to say to women with autism? Generally, they both want to assert that no matter how tough things may be, with the condition, and no matter the obstacles, to “never give up”, to be proud of yourself, and to realize the amazing talent you have.

I left both interviews charmed at the presence of these two role models for the community, and I do wish that all readers of this article would feel charmed also.