Former Miss America Contestant to Speak at WWU About Autism

Alexis Wineman places tiaras on young girls at an Air Force Base father/daughter dance.
Alexis Wineman places tiaras on young girls at an Air Force Base father/daughter dance.

The first woman with autism to compete for the coveted Miss America crown will speak about her experiences April 29 at William Woods University.

Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana 2012 and a 2013 Miss America contestant, and her sister, Amanda, will share their experiences living with autism. Her platform during both pageants was “Normal is Just a Dryer Setting: Living With Autism.”

Growing up was difficult for Wineman.

“Socializing with my classmates, even when I wanted to, was awkward to say the least,” she told DisabilityScoop news during an interview. “I wouldn’t get their jokes half the time. I took everything literally.”

Wineman was 11 when she was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder and borderline Asperger’s syndrome, putting her on the mild end of the autism spectrum.

“I felt like it came 11 years too late,” she told the Today Show, “but when it came right down to it, it really did help. I found ways to cope. I was able to move on. By the time I graduated, I was really accepting who I was.”

By then, she was many things she never thought she’d be: a cheerleader; part of the speech and drama team; a cross-country runner.

“I got out of my comfort zone … I was able to be with groups of people I wasn’t used to being with.”

According to Autism Speaks, autism now affects 1 in 88 children in the United States, and figures are growing. There is no medical detection or cure.

The National Institutes of Health describes autism as a neurodevelopment disorder whose hallmark feature is impaired social interaction. People who live with autism typically have difficulty making friends and find it hard to initiate or sustain a conversation.

Those with more severe forms of the disorder may exhibit repetitious language and behavior patterns, a preoccupation with certain objects or subjects, and severe anxiety if forced to divert from specific rituals or routines.

Wineman’s hope is that autism will be just one trait of many that defines people.

“I just wish people would just accept people with autism more instead of pushing them off into a corner and trying to forget that they’re there … I just want to make these two worlds understand each other.”

Her presentation, hosted by the WWU Communications Senior Seminar class, will be at 6:30 p.m. April 29 in Cutlip Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Kathleen Carron at KECarron@owls.williamwoods.edu