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The 2013 Miss America pageant is Saturday in Las Vegas and one contestant is set to make history. Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana, will be the first autistic contestant.
Wineman, 18, will also be the youngest competitor this year.
“For the longest time I just really wanted to know what was wrong with me,” Wineman told Fox News, explaining that she was diagnosed at age 11. “When I was finally diagnosed I felt like it came too late.”
Wineman is used to living with autism. She now has “very mild symptoms,” noting that she often struggles to talk with others. “I try my best to overcome that...It’s a part of who I am,” she said.
She hopes that she will help raise autism awareness by competing. “Most people do not understand what autism is,” she said in her contestant video. “And one in 88 people having some form of autism -- this understanding is becoming more and more necessary.”
“So many people expect autistic people to all be the same—that it’s a brain disorder so we can’t function in society,” Wineman explained to Time. “I want people to realize there’s a whole spectrum of people who live with autism. There are high-functioning people and low-functioning people.”
Wineman isn’t the only contestant making headlines. Miss DC Allyn Rose is gaining attention for announcing that she will undergo a double mastectomy, even if she wins. She told The AP that it is a preventative move, since both her grandmother and great aunt had breast cancer.