Groundbreaking beauty queen with autism amuses, enlightens Fargo school

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Alexis Wineman told the students at Davies High School in Fargo that instead of having a toaster brain she has a hair dryer brain.

"Can hair dryers make toast? They can. I would not recommend it."

Wineman became the first Miss America contestant with autism when she took part in the 2013 pageant. WDAY reports that in her address at Davies she described growing up with autism – a disorder she did not realize she had until she was 11 years old.

WDAY explains that while she sometimes turned her sense of humor on herself, Wineman's remarks also offered poignant touches about growing up with autism in Cut Bank, Montana: "...we want to keep up and be normal like other people. I wasn't popular in high school. I was that weird kid sitting in the corner. I had friends but not that many.”

Wineman told the station that money was tight in her family and the prospect of scholarship money for college enticed her to enter her first beauty pageant.

At age 18 she was Miss Montana and headed to Las Vegas to compete in the Miss America pageant. Wineman was among the top 15 finishers in the contest. In the weeks leading up to the pageant she garnered enough online votes to be selected "America's Choice."

"I felt like I was America's Miss America," Wineman later told Disability Scoop.

In an essay she wrote for CNN last year, Wineman said that while the glamour of her Miss America experience gradually faded, her commitment to raising awareness about autism grows stronger daily. She added:

I will be successful if just one person encounters a child who is overstimulated without staring, if one teenager invites an "outcast" to lunch or just smiles at him or her, or if one employer gives a job to someone who might not be able to look the interviewer in the eye.

Wineman's commitment to autism awareness is what brought her to Fargo. After her appearance at Davies, she was to be the keynote speaker at a gala event for the North Dakota Autism Center.

John Austin, whose daughter is living with autism, tells WDAY bringing Wineman to Davies to educate the entire school about autism and deliver a message of acceptance was invaluable.

April is National Autism Awareness Month.

An article published in The Atlantic Friday notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder have increased 30 percent in two years. Experts estimate 1 in 68 American children has the brain disorder.

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