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article imageMiss America's 1st autistic contestant showed courage, grace

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By Greta McClain     Jan 13, 2013 in World
Cut Bank - “Normal is Just a Dryer Setting” is the personal platform for Miss Montana’s Alexis Wineman, an 18-year-old woman who became the first autistic contestant to compete in the Miss America Pageant.
Wineman, who is from Cut Bank, Montana, was diagnosed at age 11 with Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) and borderline Asperger's Syndrome, both of which are part of the autism spectrum.
PDD is a group of conditions that involves developmental delays in basic skills such as imagination, as well as in the ability to communicate and socialize with others. One of the conditions within the PDD group is Asperger's Syndrome. Those who suffer from Asperger's also experience difficulty with communication and social interaction.
The conditions, along with often times being bullied and teased at school, left Wineman avoiding interaction with others when she was a child. She told the Billings Gazette:
“I felt so alone growing up, and I still do at times. Nobody understood what I was going through. I separated myself from my classmates and spent most of my time alone. I stayed quiet to hide my speech problems. Due to these overwhelming and daily struggles, I looked at myself as a punching bag for others, and a burden to my family.”
Once Wineman was diagnosed, she had a name to put on what she was experiencing. It allowed her to begin to understand why she felt so different and why seemingly "normal" things were a struggle. The diagnosis also allowed her to begin to get the help she needed to deal with those struggles. She received extensive therapy and counseling for her physical disorders, along with the emotional challenges she faced.
Wineman admits that the difficulties she faced made her feel very uncomfortable and insecure in the past. However, with the support and guidance from her family, teachers and counselors, she slowly began to overcome her anxiety and self-esteem issues. She joined the speech club and drama club, as well as becoming a cheerleader. Her confidence grew and she began to believe in herself, saying:
"I have come to realize that it is my differences that make me interesting."
2012 Miss Montana  Alexis Wineman
2012 Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman
Alexis Wineman/Facebook
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That new found confidence led Wineman to enter the Miss Montana pageant. For the talent portion of the pageant, she decided to do a monologue, choosing "I Think, Therefore, I am Fat," by Mickey Guisewite. The monologue uses comedy to address the negative effects society has had on women's body image, and could also be used to show how society often treats those perceived to be "different".
The experience has given her a passion for acting and making people laugh. It also led to her being crowned Miss Montana, qualifying Wineman for the 2013 Miss America Pageant.
Prior to the start of Saturday's competition, Wineman tweeted:
"I hope I make those who has been cheering me on during this journey proud tonight. There are no words to express my #gratitude."
She not only made her supporters proud, she served as an inspiration to many, being named the America's Choice winner. She moved on to the semifinals along with 14 other contestants, competing in the swimsuit competition. Sadly, when the 12 finalists were announced, Wineman's name was not included.
Wineman continued to show her courage, perseverance and gratitude however, saying:
"I can't believe it! I won America's Choice. Thanks to all of you voting for me & supporting me!"
With the pageant now behind her, Wineman plans to continue her education, attending the University of Montana with hopes of a career in art therapy. She also hopes that her story and her personal platform helps everyone remember that "normal is just a dryer setting".
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More about Miss america, Miss America Pageant, Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Aspergers syndrome
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