For years, Amber Borzotra felt as if she had been “misdiagnosed," she says. The star of MTV's "The Challenge" had anxiety and depression but thought something “deeper” was going on and searched for what it could be. Recently, she learned what it was — Borzotra has autism.
“It made me feel free,” Borzotra, 35, tells TODAY.com. “I felt like something was wrong with me, and I wanted to find out what was wrong. But I come to find out nothing was wrong. It was autism.”
Learning she had autism helped her make sense of some of her behaviors. Borzotra embraces autism and has been trying to learn more about it.
“It’s about finally being myself and understanding there’s nothing wrong, and I’m an amazing person and I’m a beautiful person inside,” she says. “I can’t let society dictate or make me feel any lower than I was once feeling.”
Since sharing that she had autism, other people living with the conditon have offered supportive messages.
“(Autism is) so new to me to where I’m trying to learn. I try being careful even speaking so much about it because I’m still so new to it,” she says. “I’ve had people reach out to me — that I’ve even know or met briefly — and they’ve been like, ‘I am autistic’ or … ‘I’ve been diagnosed late in life.’”
Not only is Borzotra learning more about the autism community but she’s also taking time in “learning me.”
Now she realizes that playing with her ring on her finger, biting her lip, playing with her hair is stimming, a repetitive motion that people with autism (and neurotypical people, too) use to soothe themselves. For years, she would tell herself internally to make eye contact and smile and nod, things that did not always come naturally to her. She now knows this is masking, a practice where autistic people act like those around them to fit in.
“Now that I know why I’m doing it, I feel so relieved,” she says.
Since being diagnosed, she’s also received a lot of support from loved ones. She feels grateful for the unconditional care she’s received from her partner, Chauncey Palmer, with whom she’s expecting her first child in five weeks.
“He was there with me when I received (my diagnosis) and I was in my mind … like, ‘Well, is he going to leave me?’ He just loves me so unconditionally,” Borzotra says. “To have someone that’s so supportive by your side, it just made it so much easier.”
Borzotra believes myths and negative ideas about autism persist, and she wants more people to take time to learn more about autism and neurodivergent conditions.
“I feel like autistic traits are often passed off as character flaws,” she says. “The thing that hurts the most is there’s been so much ignorance in it as well. I was afraid to just be open about it because of the judgement.”
Yet Borzotra feels it’s important to talk about it, especially because autism is still seen as something mostly boys and men experience.
“I’m OK sharing my story and I’d much rather help those … who want to share theirs, as well, or bring more awareness,” she says. “I’m hoping that I can make others feel the same way and have a beautiful experience in the end like I did.”
She says she views autism so positively because she understands it makes her who she is. What’s more, having autism didn’t stop her from accomplishing her goals, and she hopes that people stop seeing it as a something that holds people back.
“I won my first season of ("The Challenge"), so I can’t look at it like a flaw,” Borzotra. “It’s not going to hinder me. … Everyone else that’s neurodivergent, there’s no holding us back. ... We can do anything anyone else can.”
Even though she realized that being on TV can trigger her and cause her to feel uncomfortable at times, she has no plans to stop doing what she loves.
“If anything, it makes me want to push myself more and put myself in those uncomfortable situations … to see what I can do in that moment,” she says. “I’m extremely aware of who I am so it makes it that much easier to go out there and tackle the world.”