Israel Harrison Talks Autism Diagnosis and Makes History as Pageant Queen | Way of life

“I’m not crazy,” Israel Harrison exclaims, as if declaring from deep within that something he’s been led to believe has now turned out to be wrong. A few months ago, the model and pageant queen was diagnosed with autism, a conclusion she already had an instinct for.

“I’m actually autistic. He was diagnosed by three different doctors here as an adult, but I was very aware of the traits I had and did my research, so it came as no surprise. At first I was heartbroken, but I accepted that as confirmation that I was only made differently and very sane,” Harrison said. Living after autism advocate Toshami Calvin’s crowning as Miss Universe Jamaica 2022

She adds: “For a long time, I wanted to see a health professional, but I couldn’t. Luckily, my contest community advisors helped make that happen.

Harrison walked away with the Miss International Jamaica 2022 crown when she entered the AndWar pageant in April. She will represent Jamaica at the 60th annual Miss International, to be held in Japan in December. This is a historic occasion as not only does the island return to one of the world’s top five competitions, but she is the first autistic delegate and is expected to do well at every round.

“My ambition to be the first autistic delegate to represent Jamaica has never faded in my mind or heart. I stand for ‘nothing about us without us’ and what does that mean? We have need more autistic leaders to help our community and develop a more inclusive place,” Harrison offers.

Beauty pageants have long been criticized as lacking inclusiveness, and often labeled as sexist and tasteless, as contestants are judged on their physical appearance, which Harrison admits, “I was one of the cynics.”

She explains: “Before, I thought it was about appearance and at one point I thought it was sexist, [but] the more I learned to find a purpose and a cause, the more I saw what the organizers were looking for.

Harrison further explains that she does not use “functional labels” because she believes it is harmful to people diagnosed with autism and can also significantly affect their mental health.

“I don’t and refuse to say I’m performing like people have said. The reality is that, like anyone on the spectrum or diagnosed with one or more of these disorders, I have a wide range of unusual abilities and needs. Right now I can’t cut anything, I’m still struggling mentally and with hypersensitivity even to stage lights, but I’ve found a way to control it. I also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (or ADHD). Somehow I grew up on some things, but even as a contestant and [who] is also a performer, I still have to go home and lie in the dark to find my sense of myself,” she shares.

She uses music as therapy and was in fact a member of the Silver Birds Steel Band Orchestra between 2017 and 2018, where she played triple cello steel pan. Harrison boasts that he can learn an instrument and a song in hours, “and I’ve always been called upon to do that…. I learned my first song, that of Bob Marley one Lovein minutes.” She is also fluent in Hispanic steps such as samba, bachata and salsa. While performing for work at the RUI hotel, she was approached by a director of a contest but turned down the offer to enter due to his beliefs at the time.”Music was my escape and I wasn’t going to run away. Instead, I was fired later that same year. I was immature,” she says followed by a laugh.

Born and raised in Luidas Vale, St Catherine to father Sheldon Samuels and mother Darion Harrison, the 25-year-old still ran around the estate grounds until she moved to Kingston.

“My dad owned a restaurant in the community and I was staying over the sugar cane plantation and it was a great experience because it was just a really big lot, really big acres of land and I was running around . I have my grandmother’s last name. It was a very beautiful life and I remember that I was very happy and that my parents spoiled me when I was a child. However, my father and my mother separated,” she recalls.

Along with being an ambassador for the autistic community, a big part of Harrison’s platform is mental health. She wants to start her own group, which she plans to name ‘The Soul Star Orchestra’, aimed at helping children and adults facing similar challenges.

“I learned it late, but better late than never. I keep hearing people talk about autism, having not grown up knowing but still understanding that this is misinformation. We are quite capable and we need to speak to those within the community who can share more of their own experiences. The “Soul Star” is the eighth chakra that supports balance, health and well-being. It is central to our life purpose and mission, which strengthens our spiritual bonds,” she beams.

“I don’t do this just for autistic talents, but for all neurotypical individuals. Music can do so many things. I wouldn’t enter a contest if I didn’t think I had a purpose. Beauty, to me, is what’s in your heart, how you treat a person. Your wisdom, your kindness and your beauty will open doors for you. I am extremely grateful to the organizers of the AndWar international pageant, people like Jermaine Dyer who have trained me before, all the pageant queens, and a big shout out to Miss Universe Jamaica 2022 Toshami Calvin who is an autism advocate, for his support and advice. I don’t even have a sponsor at the moment, I’m still trying to figure it out but I want to take this opportunity to do as much as I can to serve my community the best I can,” Harrison says.

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