“If you feel like you need to fight for something, absolutely fight for it. You don’t have to back down.”

That’s the message 22-year-old Abby Censabella has for those still working to find out who they really are and where they truly belong.

Abby was diagnosed with Autism just a few years ago, and she had to move from Rhode Island to New York in order to get her diagnosis fully recognized. She found community, direction, and purpose as a student in The College Experience, entering the program in 2020 and graduating two years later.

“It’s hard to get diagnosed,” Abby shares, “Especially for women. Often it’s overlooked and not acknowledged and so, for a while, people just thought I had ADHD and a type of intellectual disability. I’m just so happy that New York finally diagnosed me. I had been waiting forever for a diagnosis or just something to explain what was going on with me. Just knowing what it was, I was like, ‘oh that makes sense.”

Abby is not alone. According to an article published last October by UCLA Health, boys are four times as likely as girls to receive an Autism diagnosis, with recent research showing 80% of girls and women on the Autism spectrum remain undiagnosed at age 18. Going without a diagnosis can mean going without life-enhancing supports and services. Researchers believe under-diagnosis happens because Autism can look different in girls and young women than it does in boys and young men. Females can be more likely to have internalized symptoms and can sometimes mask the signs of their disability more easily than their male peers.

“I’m always saying, if I were to just walk down the street no one would know that I have Autism,” Abby explains, “At jobs before I have hid that I have disabilities because I was worried about, you know, what it could lead to and where that could go. But then I realized if I’m going to tell people that I have disabilities they’ll accept it and stuff. I’ll find the right people.”

Abby has always had a passion for supporting others and she’s put that energy into her career in childcare. She currently works at an afterschool program, with support from her job coach, and really enjoys being a positive role model to the kids she mentors. “That’s what I feel like I was meant to do,” she says, smiling, “To be a leader and to also help people. I’ve learned a lot of skills with the kids, like patience.”

Abby is thrilled to be starting a new chapter of her life: living on her own in an apartment with roommates. She says The College Experience prepared her well to take this big step. “Getting to be a young adult is great,” she says, “I finally get to make decisions for myself, do something new, and be independent!”