‘Big Brother’ Houseguest Britini D’Angelo Inspires As An Advocate for Autism Awareness

Britini D’Angelo. Photo credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS 2021 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

On Sept. 29, 2021, during the historic season 23 finale of “Big Brother” on CBS, host Julie Chen Moonves gave houseguest and jury member Britini D’Angelo the floor, and on a much larger scale, a national platform, to reveal to her fellow houseguests and to America, that not only is she a fourth-degree karate black belt, but that she has autism. By doing that, her goal was to bring awareness about autism, and ultimately to stop the stigma associated with it.

Standing up, Britini gave an empowering speech proclaiming, “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 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.”

Born and raised in Niagara Falls, New York, Britini graduated from Niagara University (NU) with her Masters in Early Childhood and Childhood Education, with additional certifications in Special Education Grades 1-6 and Theatre Education Grades K-12. Her many other talents include playing four musical instruments (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, and flute). She has danced for 19 years in 12 different styles to audiences as large as 20,000 at different sporting events. She is now a dance teacher and teaches Musical Theatre and Assistant Teach Tap at a local studio. And she has reached over 241.8K followers on TikTok where she regularly posts inspirational dance videos.

Incredibly grateful for the experience she had and the friends she made on “Big Brother,” Britini took to Instagram on Oct. 5th to share her heartfelt thoughts. Here is an excerpt: “My experience of being a Houseguest on #BB23 is a dream come true . . . I’m honored for the opportunity to be unapologetically, authentically and completely myself. I’ve never had the opportunity to talk publicly about having autism, but I’m thrilled to be able to start by sharing my journey and hopefully inspiring others. I want to be an advocate, cheerleader and offer hope. . . My diagnosis does not define me but honestly is my superpower! Starting off as being nonverbal, having no eye contact, and no social cues, my journey has not been easy by any means. I’ve had to learn what works and doesn’t work for me. However, I’ve faced hurdles and broken down boundaries that have all made me stronger. I wasn’t just doing this for me. I wanted to do this for every single kid, teenager or adult who has a disability. Your disability does not define you. Your path is up to you!”

We had the opportunity to chat with Britini about her viral moment on TV, how she is now using her massive social media following to further her message about autism awareness, and her goals for the future.

First up, what has life been like since leaving the ‘Big Brother’ house? 

Life since leaving the ‘Big Brother’ house has been overwhelming, in the absolute best way possible. The greatest part is that I am finally reunited with my family after being away for more than three months. I have been able to connect with so many friends who I missed during my time in LA, which has also been incredible.

Social media has definitely been the biggest adjustment for me since coming out of the ‘Big Brother’ house. I truly have received so much love & support from so many across the country, and it has meant the world to me. The support, of course, reflects how I played my game and how authentic I was in the house, but it mainly reflects the bravery it took for me to come forward and tell everyone in the house, as well as America, that I was diagnosed with Autism at 22 months. 

Going on ‘Big Brother’ as the first female to be diagnosed with Autism, I knew that my purpose on the show was much larger than potentially winning $750,000. I have had so many children, teens, parents, adults, and grandparents reach out to me to tell me their stories. They have shared with me how much hope seeing me on ‘Big Brother’ gave them for either themselves or their children. I have had so many messages from individuals stating that they’re going to apply to be on the show next year because they watched me, and now they know they can succeed. I can’t even tell you how much this has meant to me! My mom and I read messages together sometimes, and we’re just in tears. We never could have expected that the response would be so large, and I just feel so blessed. 

On the finale, you spoke openly about having autism and how you want to raise awareness about what it means to live with autism. Can you talk more about your mission?

My mission consists of three main focuses: education, early intervention, and a person first narrative. 

The first part of my mission is definitely based on education. Just because someone is on the spectrum, or considered neurodivergent, doesn’t mean that they are not capable of doing anything that a neurotypical individual can do. With accommodations that put them on a level playing field with their peers, they can do anything. Often, there’s a misunderstanding that just because someone has Autism, they are inherently “behind,” and they are seen as someone who needs “help,” or that, honestly, they’re not smart. I have experienced all three of these points throughout my life, and all three of them are the furthest from the truth.

Secondly, a huge part of my mission is advocating for early intervention. Parent(s) need to advocate for as much early intervention as possible. Don’t settle until you feel you are getting what your child needs. I know my mom had to go back several times to get the number of hours that research stated was necessary to make a change. In terms of Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy alone, she started at 5 hours and fought her way to 40, with five hours of speech additionally added. My protocol was six days a week, working with my team of teachers in order to “peel away the layers of my onion,” as my mom would always say. This is absolutely part of my mission because as I can only speak for myself, that was the game changer for me and has been for so many neurodivergent children. If a parent has an inkling that their child is not developing the way they should, contact your local early intervention services and let them do an assessment. The earlier therapy starts for children on the spectrum, the better. 

Thirdly, we need to accept people for people. I challenge you to find someone in this world that perfectly encapsulates what an individual “should” be. Everyone has differences, quirks, or things that make them unique. Why, then, does a diagnosis change the way people look at individuals who are neurodivergent? No matter how tough it got in the ‘Big Brother’ house for me, I made a pact to myself to not disclose my disability to my fellow houseguests because I wanted them to get to know Britini for Britini, and not as a label, or a diagnosis.

Autism truly is my superpower because it has taught me resilience, perseverance, and how to dig deep and have grit. Now, do I still live with my disability every single day and have to navigate through situations using the skills I’ve been taught? Absolutely, without a question. But, I am Britini FIRST. 

Britini D’Angelo, 4th Degree Black Belt World Championships. Image by Cathy D’Angelo

What are some harmful or incorrect stigmas you are keen to see erased in society? 

Unfortunately, there are many harmful or incorrect stigmas that I would love to see erased in society. Here are a few I hear the most: 

  1. People think that any disability relating to the brain means that they cannot function normally in society. This is a HUGE stigma I have dealt with throughout my entire life. Just because I have Autism doesn’t mean that I am not able to function in society by any means. Like everyone else, I have my strengths and my weaknesses, but individuals in the neurodivergent community are absolutely capable of functioning in society. 
  2. Individuals in the neurodivergent community are “less,” annoying, different, and my favorite of them all, “difficult.” I cannot tell you how many times I was called difficult by my teachers because I questioned my teachers up and down. I didn’t see things the way my teachers did, and this caused me to have a lot of questions and then be referred to as difficult instead of confused. 
  3. There is a stigma that exists in terms of what individuals living with Autism CANNOT do, as opposed to what we CAN do. I truly couldn’t tell you why this one exists, but this is a huge stigma. People on the spectrum have goals and dreams and there should be no limitations, just accommodations so they can be fulfilled. The American’s with Disabilities Act was created to make this a reality and put ALL people on a level playing field by giving them what they need to be successful and accomplish these goals and dreams. 
  4. People who have children with Autism are bad parents. My mother got so many looks when I would break out into tantrums, or when something would go out of the norm for me on a particular day. People would look at my mom as if she were a bad parent, which was the farthest thing from the truth. To every parent out there who has a child in the neurodivergent community, know that you are incredible and that you are your child’s superhero. 

You have a huge following on TikTok (where you are famous for your dance moves!) and on Instagram. How do you utilize your social media platform to raise awareness about autism? 

Originally, my TikTok platform was created to spread positivity, light, kindness, and be a safe space where everyone can just be themselves. I created my TikTok during the global pandemic as a way of keeping my own and everyone’s spirits up. 

My social media following has grown because of ‘Big Brother’, which I feel so beyond thankful and blessed for. It was while I was in the BB house that my mom actually started sharing positive messages regarding the neurodiversity community. Moving forward, I intend to use my platform to educate, give hope, and advocate for individuals just like myself living in the neurodiversity community. 

@britini_dangelo

TIK TOK❤️ I’m BACK! Taught the houseguests this, now it’s my turn! DC: @theemyanicole ##foryoupage ##foryou ##fyp ##bigbrother ##dancingwithbritini ##bb23

♬ Up – Cardi B

Why do you think there is still so much stigma about people who have disabilities? 

The largest reason, I feel, is discomfort or awkwardness. When approaching individuals with disabilities, people don’t know what’s okay and not okay to say, and how to conduct themselves in a manner that won’t offend us. In my experience when I have revealed my disability I’ve either had people talk to me in simpler terms, say that they are sorry for me, or talk around my disability because they didn’t want to say the “wrong” things. I really do feel that there is so much about the neurodivergent community that needs to be shared in order for people to understand that we’re still people. 

I think another reason this stigma still exists is purely because of a lack of education on the topic. People have preconceived notions when they hear about certain disabilities. They feel like some may limit you academically, others may cause you to be crazy or even kill you. Because people don’t have specific knowledge regarding all disabilities, they kind of lump those feelings together and treat all disabilities like that. 

Do you still keep in contact with any of your BB housemates? If so, which ones?

Of course! Our cast is like a family. When you go through an experience like we all did together, you are truly bonded for life! Plus, I need to give a shout out to casting because we all complemented each other so well. We have a couple cast trips planned for the rest of the year as well, so our BB family is reuniting soon and I cannot wait. 

In terms of who I talk to the most, that would have to be Azah. She is truly such an incredible individual and beautiful inside and out. Other houseguests that I still talk to all the time are Derek F, Christian, Frenchie, Claire, & Alyssa.

If you could give advice to executives and creators in the media, what would you tell them about being inclusive of people with disabilities? 

My advice would be firstly to create more story lines that feature people who are neurodivergent, autistic or any other disability, and portray them as people who are capable, educated, holding down jobs, running families, accomplishing goals and breaking barriers. I would also like to see an increase in individuals possessing disabilities being cast to represent people like them on screen. The more this casting occurs, the more normalized it will become in society.

Britini D_Angelo Teaching at Harry F. Abate Elementary School (Kindergarten). Photo by Catherine Danielwicz.

Along with your creative talents in music and dance, you are also a Black Belt! What other interests do you have or are involved in? 

I truly have so many interests that span across a lot of different fields. One of largest interests is theatre and performing. This aspect of my life encompasses my 19 years of dance training, my love of singing, and my passion for acting. I have two bachelor’s degrees, one of which is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre-Performance. There’s truly no feeling quite like performing in front of a large, live audience! 

On that same point, performance is a really large aspect of martial arts, which has truly become such a passion of mine. My brother was competing at the 2009 World Championships for the Chuck Norris System, and seeing the family atmosphere and the performances got me hooked! I am now a 4th Degree Black Belt and Three Time World Champion in the Chuck Norris System. Martial Arts has truly changed my life in more ways than one.

I also play on a bar league softball team during the summer and fall seasons. In terms of music, I play the saxophone, flute, and piano. Music is truly such a large part of my life, as it’s the only thing I really responded to as a kid. I absolutely love singing as well. Music and I have always just “clicked,” if that makes sense. 

What are you working toward as your next big goal?

To be honest, one of my largest goals coming up is to figure out where I want to begin teaching full-time. Being on ‘Big Brother’, I had to give up my eligibility to have my own classroom this school year, due to the show running into October. I am so excited to begin substituting for this school year, and then as the year progresses, interview with different districts and hopefully find my home “home” school. 

I would also say that my next big goal is to hopefully speak at conventions/events in order to break down barriers regarding neurodiversity and autism. I want to continue to share my story with so many across the country, and potentially across the world. I want to show everyone that it doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not, you are capable of anything you set your mind too.


You can keep up to date with what Britini is doing by following her on Instagram and TikTok.

Britini D’Angelo. Image by Cecil Bridgewater

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