“Autism has truly become my superpower throughout life.” Britini D’Angelo
By Ron Sandison
Britini D’Angelo (Niagara Falls, NY), is a teacher, dance instructor, a fourth degree black belt in the Chuck Norris System, and was recently a contestant on Big Brother 23 (CBS). Britini overcame many hurdles in becoming a reality show celebrity. Diagnosed at 22 months, she was nonverbal until the age of 3 ½ and had repetitive stims.
“As a young child, I had no eye contact and was unable to understand social cues. I only responded to positive feedback and I was in my own world—music empowered me to interact socially and learn new things,” D’Angelo said.
In 1999, Britini’s mother advocated for early intervention services. From age 2 to 5, Britini received 40 hours of Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy and five hours of speech per week.
“My mom was my biggest advocate, and truly has been throughout my journey. As a rehab counselor herself, she saw my strengths and worked to capitalize on them to make me who I am today.”
Growing up, Britini learned to handle sensory issues by touching her favorite blanket. The feel of the blanket helped her calm down during stressful situations. Other activities that helped her calm down were her extra curricular activities, including dance & martial arts.
“Dancing and karate provided me with opportunities to socialize and adjust to different environments. I was only 5 when my parents enrolled me in dance lessons and now, I have danced in 12 different styles over a period of 20 years. I’ve danced for audiences as large as 20,000 at different sporting events and I love teaching young people to dance.” Pertaining to her martial arts journey, Britini stated, “Karate enabled me to focus and taught me discipline. Each of my black belt tests consisted of a 4 ½ hour examination that required intense concentration. Karate has completely changed my life and has taught me to evaluate situations and problem solving skills.”
Britini has two special interests that not many people may know she has, which are the color purple and snow globes.
“I love purple, all shades! A partial reason why I went to Niagara University was because their school color is purple and I could wear purple every day without fearing judgment, ha-ha! For snow globes, I have a mini snow globe collection that I started at the age of 10. I currently own 173 snow globes, and my favorites in my collection are ones I collected from London, Mexico, and Disney World!”
In high school, Britini played tennis during the spring sport season and was offered a place on Niagara University’s D1 college tennis team.
“As a school counselor herself, my mom always encouraged me to be involved with sports and activities. Participating in different activities helped me make new friends and understand social cues to a greater degree in different social situations. My parents could not have been more supportive of me throughout any activity that I did throughout my childhood. They were always there, rooting me on, cheering the absolute loudest, and I truly feel so blessed they’re in my life,” Britini said.
Britini attended Niagara University for 6 years and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance, a Bachelor of Arts in Communications & Media Studies, and a Masters of Science in Early Childhood & Childhood Education. In 2019, she made history at Niagara University by being the first graduating senior to win both top awards at graduation, being the Niagara Medal & the Senior Medal (Valedictorian).
“For me, my college years were truly some of the greatest years! I was involved in 17 clubs and organizations throughout my four years on campus, as well as being cast in seven productions with Niagara University Theatre. During college, I was given the opportunity to figure out who I was, start to share my Autism journey more, and most importantly, learn how to use my Superpower to become an Advocate for Autism Acceptance.”
So, how did this aspiring teacher find her place on reality TV? Britini auditioned for Big Brother by sending in a humorous video of her standing in front of a Christmas tree. Although, sending in this video didn’t mean that she was not fearful of going on the show for specific reasons.
“My biggest fear of competing on Big Brother was definitely the understanding that not only would I be separated from my family for three months, but that I would have legit no communication with them for that period of time. Throughout my entire life, my family has been my rocks, especially my mother. Not being able to have them as someone who I could even call was a definite fear of mine. In the house, that was the first time I’ve ever had to truly subvocalize and perceive events on my own,” Britini stated.
Out of all of the activities Britini has done throughout her life, karate was definitely one that prepared Britini with specific qualities that worked to her advantage on Big Brother.
In regards to her martial arts journey, Britini stated, “In December 2020, I was promoted to the rank of 4th degree black belt in the Chuck Norris System. I am also a three-time world champion at the United Fighting Arts Federation World Championships Tournament. I developed from karate four important qualities that I used while competing on Big Brother, being discipline, loyalty, respect, and integrity. Time alone on the show required me to be disciplined and focused on my goal. For me to make it to the next week in the house, I had to earn the respect of the other contestants. Loyalty and integrity enabled me to connect with the other contestants in the house and allowed me to develop personal connections with each of my houseguests.”
For Britini, her Superpower definitely helped her more than she had expected.
“While I was in the house, I used the strategies I learned in therapy to help me separate my own personal emotions from strictly game emotions. Also, when I was in therapy, I was taught how to read facial cues. As I was having conversations in the house, I used this to my benefit for sure. I could immediately tell if someone was lying to me because they would say one thing, and their facial expressions would tell a whole different story.”
Britini waited to disclose her Autism diagnosis to the rest of the contestants until the Big Brother 23 season finale. She stood up in front of her entire cast and stated, “When I was 22 months old, I was diagnosed with Autism and I have been living with Autism every single day. The reason why I did not disclose that to all of you in the house was that I wanted to be seen as me. I wanted you guys to get to know me for me. Britini for Britini. Not as a label. Not as a diagnosis. I am so much more than what my disability is! And I am so proud of the journey I have had to be standing on this stage right now. This is an anomaly that I am here. And I just wanted to say thank you all for accepting me with open arms.”
In going on Big Brother, Britini hopes to be an inspiration to so many others.
“Never ever give up on your dreams and go after anything and everything you want to accomplish throughout your life! Through living with Autism, certain days will be harder than others, but hard work pays off! I followed my dream, never gave up, and I truly feel so honored to be the first female to compete on Big Brother who was diagnosed with Autism.”
Britini currently works as a Building-Base Substitute for grades two through six. When she’s not subbing, she is a dance instructor at a local studio in Niagara Falls, works in retail part time, and manages her social media accounts. Big Brother has provided her with a national platform to speak and advocate for autism. She encourages individuals on the spectrum to “never give up on your dreams, never let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, and always remember that you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.
Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.
You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org