This Saturday during the 92nd annual Miss America scholarship pageant, something pretty amazing is going to happen - an incredibly beautiful and inspiring young lady representing the state of Montana will take to the stage and compete for the coveted crown... and she has autism.
Diagnosed at a young age with the neurological disorder, Alexis Wineman was crowned Miss Montana last June and will be the first contestant with an autism diagnosis to compete in Miss America. From what I've read, Alexis's family has encouraged her to engage with her peers and participate in school activities like cheerleading. She was even named team captain and performed in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I can imagine these activities are terribly more difficult for her than they are for the average teenager. A huge aspect of being a part of the "squad" requires that she interact with her peers, and with autism, doing so can certainly be difficult, awkward, and anxiety-inducing. I read in an article that Alexis's mom acknowledged that competing in the pageant has created some challenges - many with autism thrive when on a schedule and I'm sure the pageant prep and schedule has been anything but routine. As a titleholder, I'm sure Alexis has to make appearances where she's expected to smile, shake hands and make eye contact with her admirers. This can also be very difficult for folks on the spectrum. I am so proud of Alexis that she has been able to overcome these adversities to become an amazing advocate for autism awareness.
Thank you Alexis for giving parents like me hope that our little ones with autism CAN overcome overwhelming obstacles to achieve their dreams. Thank you for being brave and strong and for putting a beautiful face to autism. Regardless of how the competition goes Saturday, you've already made so many of us proud. I'll be tuning in and cheering for you! Good luck young lady, and sparkle on!