18 year-old Alexis Wineman is the first contestant with autism to compete in the Miss America pageant.
Alexis was labeled "different" and "difficult" during elementary and middle school. She was bullied and teased for her speech impediment and eventually stopped talking to avoid attention, descending into self-abusive behavior.
Socially isolated and struggling with school, Alexis would sometimes bang her head against walls or descend into screaming fits when frustrated.
After a two-year process that included counseling, a battery of tests, and behavioral medicine, Alexis was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, including borderline Asperger’s syndrome at age 11.
Alexis was able to develop strategies for coping with her condition during her last year of middle school. Encouraged by her family, she joined the cross-country team, cheerleading squad, and drama group in high school.
Alexis began competing in beauty pageants as a last-minute attempt to get scholarship money for college. She was crowned Miss Montana in June 2012, one month after graduation.
Through her pageant platform, "Normal Is Just A Dryer Setting: Living With Autism," she aims to raise awareness about the developmental disorder.
Since her crowning, Alexis has formed partnerships with special needs groups Autism Speaks, AbilityPath and Generation Rescue and spoken at schools and autism conferences around Montana.
At age 18, Alexis will be the youngest contestant in this year's Miss America pageant. Her talent is comedic monologue and she will be performing a stand-up comedy routine entitled, "I Think, Therefore, I am Fat."
If she wins Saturday's Miss America pageant, she hopes to use the national spotlight to change people's perceptions of autism.
Alexis Wineman: "I want show the world that being on the autism spectrum is not a death sentence, but a life adventure."
Alexis speaks about her condition in her official Miss America 2013 video: