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My Story: Mistaken Identity Turns Into Autism Awareness

This guest post is from 22-year-old Rachel Canning from Tampa Bay, Florida. Rachel has recently has been in the news for being mistaken as 19-year-old Rachel Canning from New Jersey who unsuccessfully sued her parents for college tuition. This is Rachel's story.

My name is Rachel Canning. I am a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a double major in International Studies and Communication with a minor in Leadership Studies. I’ve absolutely loved my time here at USF and spent the past years extremely involved in a variety of organizations. I am thrilled that I will be working as a Collegiate Development Consultant for the Delta Gamma Fraternity after I graduate this May.

The last week has been an unexpected whirlwind that all started with a case of mistaken identity. A legal case surfaced in New Jersey revolving around a young woman who is coincidentally also named Rachel Canning. Many people were outraged about this case, all unbeknownst to me since I was absorbed by my midterms. These people took to Facebook to voice their opinions and mistakenly came across my Homecoming Facebook page from back in October. I received a wide range of messages, which were not intended for me, but disturbing nonetheless. Upon the suggestion of a thoughtful stranger, I decided to try and channel all the negativity into something positive. Having just registered to participate in the local Walk Now for Autism Speaks, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to promote a cause so close to my heart.

I believe that anyone who has a sibling with autism would say that it has shaped their lives in some way. Though incredibly challenging at times, I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to be Tom’s big sister. My little brother is the kindest, most genuine person I have ever met and I think the world could learn a lot from him. Without him in my life, I know that I would not be the person I am today. For those of us who have spent the majority of our lives within the autism community, it is easy to forget that not everyone is educated on what autism actually is. I believe that through knowledge comes understanding, which is why I am so passionate about promoting Autism Awareness.

Being a sibling of someone with autism charges us with being more than merely a friend - we are their protectors, advocates, champions. This strange case of mistaken identity has given me a unique opportunity to bring further attention to a condition that has such an impact on not only individuals, but also families. The most incredible part of this experience has been the number of messages I’ve received from people who are touched by autism, thanking me for bringing attention to this cause. I’ve loved receiving messages from people with autism and family members, sharing their struggles and triumphs. Their stories are a testament to what is possible with unconditional love and hope.

I live my life by my sorority Delta Gamma’s motto, simply to “Do Good”. I truly believe that in any situation there is the potential to make a positive difference, with the right outlook. I may have provided the spark, but none of this would have been possible without the outpouring of love and support from people all over the world. To be kind is such a simple act, but it has the potential to have such a profound impact. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better, and happier” – Mother Teresa.

You can learn more about Rachel's story on our website here. You can also donate to help Rachel reach her fundraising goal for her walk team here.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.