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Could The Next Miss America Have Autism?

By Lesley Young | October 4, 2012

Alexis Wineman always knew she was different.

“Socializing with my classmates, even when I wanted to, was awkward to say the least. I wouldn’t get their jokes half the time. I took everything so literally,” said the Cut Bank, Mont. resident.

Alexis Wineman, 18, has autism and will represent Montana in the Miss America pageant in January.

Alexis Wineman, 18, has autism and will represent Montana in the Miss America pageant in January. (Courtesy: The Wineman Family)

When Wineman was diagnosed with autism at age 11, she finally had a name to put to her experience. Rather than use her diagnosis as an excuse and give up, she took the bull by the horns.

Today, Wineman, now 18, may very well be the next Miss America. She was crowned Miss Montana in June, becoming the first person on the autism spectrum to claim the sash. In January, she will travel to Las Vegas where she could become the first with the developmental disorder to capture the national title.

It’s been a long road for the self-described “oddball out” whose best friend as a girl was a Winnie the Pooh doll, which she still holds onto.

“He showed me that being different was okay and there was nothing wrong with pacing or sitting in one place for hours just thinking,” Wineman said. “I say why fit in when you were born to stand out.”

Encouraged by her family, Wineman began to break out of her shell after she was diagnosed and engage in school activities. Performing became a way for her to face her fears and learn to cope. Wineman joined the cheerleading squad, ultimately becoming team captain and appearing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Now less than four months into her term as Miss Montana, Wineman and her mother have already put 7,000 miles on their car traversing the state to present her platform — “Normal is Just a Dryer Setting‚ Living with Autism” — at schools, hospitals, conferences and parades.

“It’s amazing how people don’t accept other people just because they’re different. Being different is not something to look down on, but to be embraced,” Wineman said. “People need to understand. I want to talk to kids with autism too and share with them that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Adjusting to the unpredictability of life as Miss Montana has been a challenge, says Wineman’s mother, Kimberley Butterworth.

“She has at times struggled,” Butterworth said. “There isn’t a set schedule, which can be very hard.”

When things get tough, Wineman relies on coping skills she’s developed through the years like listening to Celtic music on her iPod.

“With her iPod, she has been able to disengage for a minute, and plug herself into it and regroup,” Butterworth said.

When Wineman is not on the road she’s focused on preparing for the Miss America pageant by brushing up on the comedy monologue she will perform in the talent competition, exercising and eating healthy, and more often than not, walking in heels.

“I was never a girl to walk in heels, and I did not prepare. That was the hardest part,” she said.

Jan Holden, executive director of the Miss Montana Scholarship Program, thinks Wineman will have no problem at the national level.

“She’s a pretty special girl. She’s very intelligent. That girl’s got grace and poise, and she did phenomenal in her interview,” said Holden. “She’s come a long way, and it’s her doing.”


33 Comments (Open | Close)

33 Comments To "Could The Next Miss America Have Autism?"

#1 Comment By KA101 On October 4, 2012 @ 7:41 am

I’m not much for beauty pageants but we come in all kinds. Best of luck to her, though I do hope she develops better taste in advocacy groups. [aut$peaks & Reverse Autism Now showed up in the first three pages of google results. Not a good sign.]

(Personal note: I own a pair of Western riding boots and can’t walk any appreciable distance in them. 1-inch heels are difficult enough, and I feel no need for anyone to wear heels in order for me to consider xem attractive. Flats FTW.)

#2 Comment By Autistic On October 4, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

Say “is Autistic” not “has Autism”.

Please, for god’s sake. Stop insulting us.

#3 Comment By Laura D On October 4, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

Beauty pageants aren’t ‘my thing’ either, but kudos to this girl. My autistic daughter, who is in fifth grade is extremely intelligent but her social struggles are really becoming more apparent as she gets older. Her best friend is too, a big stuffed Winnie the Pooh who she runs to hug to calm herself down when she gets upset. I hope Miss Wineman will be able to bring awareness and advocacy to those on the autism spectrum and their families.

#4 Comment By Cade DeBois (@lifepostepic) On October 4, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

@ Autistic: I have autism. It’s OK, I think, in articles that address a mixed address to say a person has autism. Yes, it is kind of like saying someone has diabetes, has cancer or has heart disease. It’s also like saying someone has personality, has talent, has intelligence. And it’s also like saying someone has brown eyes, has dark hair or has freckles. It’s pretty neutral, and the connotation of possession–that this is something I possess–it is something that I like about that phrasing. I have it. A non-autistic person doesn’t have it. Thus, I have some authority on it and maybe people need to be quiet and listen when I say something about it.

I personally dislike “a person with autism” because that makes it sound like autism is a side dish, but I will use that too when addressing a mixed audience, because it makes sense to people who are just beginning to grasp that we autistics have a very different expreince from them. But all the same I make of habit it of letting people know that I am autistic and that my experience of the world is autistic, and they need to respect this about me, not pity me for it or try to turn me inside out in an attempt to make me separable from being autistic.

I think the tactful approach here is to simply educate people about how we autistics have the right to define ourselves and to define our own autistic expreince, to be able to speak of our struggles without our autistic experience and personhood being reduced to them, and to not be confined to the language and social scripts that so often gets handed to us by non-autistics for their comfort and ease. I encourage a discussion about the language we use to talk about autistic people and about autism, but I think it’s best to remember that you can only speak authoritatively of your own experience and viewpoint, and not for all autistics. We are, after all, not a cult or a sect, but simply individuals who share a common way of experiencing the world.

#5 Comment By sanni On October 4, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

what a tru hero -ur an inspiration fr us on spectrum whom coldnt du what u are achieving -ur awsiome an i hope tht ul wil achieve more in ur life lik havin independence in society am n doing things that ppl saed is impossible -hope u aschieve this an more fr us

#6 Comment By June On October 5, 2012 @ 11:19 am

What a wonderful role model you are! You are letting others on the spectrum know that by reaching outside of their comfort zone, you can achieve your goals and still be “ok”. My 9yr old has Aspergers and when life gets to be a little too much, she has her music to listen to too!

#7 Comment By REMONA FENNELL On October 5, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

@Cade deBois- what an articulate and thoughtful response! I am passionate about issues differently abled adults experience everyday, and have worked in the field for many years yet- I dont walk in those shoes so I could not have said what you did or as well! Kudos to you :).

#8 Comment By tiffany On October 5, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

As a professional in the field of developmental disabilities I sense that the phrasing is due to the “people first” language movement. This movement does not seek to marginalize anyone but seeks only to put the emphasis on the person and not on the disorder.
In-crowd usage, personal preferences, regional variations, age, personal experience, all come in to play with language. The terms that were commonplace when I started in the field are no longer the terms used. The terms used in my state were not the terms used in other states. Some people have a more clinical approach while some have more personal response to certain words. Over all it is often best to think of the intentions behind the speaker as opposed to concentrating on the terminology used. The author of this story does not seem to be attacking or purposely “insulting” anyone and I hope that the message is not lost in the semantics.

#9 Comment By lk On October 5, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

Well said Tiffany. To those of you who aren’t as familiar to the diagnosis, Aspergers is part of the autistic spectrum.

#10 Comment By Michele Vics On October 5, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

You go, girl!! Not only do I hope to see you take the national crown, but move on to Miss Universe

#11 Comment By Mav’smyhero On October 5, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

•Alexis…I truly hope you win Miss America!
•Tiffany, thank you for your input. It’s appreciated.

I am the parent of a 10 yr old with autism. We have always honored him as person 1st. He is intelligent, humorous, creative and amorous. He is brave, kind, artistic and fun. His voice is beautiful, he’s a great soccer goalie, and today he stood up on a surfboard! This is who he is and what he loves to do AND he has autism. His autism does not define who he is, it is an part of who he is.

#12 Comment By Kathy Howery On October 6, 2012 @ 9:08 am

“Normal is just a dryer setting” -Love it!

#13 Comment By Jon K. Evans On October 6, 2012 @ 10:40 am

I believe that if you are socially different, to say the least, you will face more challenges-regardless of ethnic, religious, or social background. Most insidiously, I thought that I was part of the crowd, and could fit in-only to find out that I was different! It is a matter of self perception versus how others perceive you.

#14 Comment By Jeff On October 6, 2012 @ 11:07 am

@ Autistic
! say that my child has Autism and never say that she is Autistic. I am focused on recovery and do not accept that she was born this way or her condition will be life long. Autistic sounds like acceptance to me…if you are in a place where you can type on the internet, speak, communicate and use the bathroom then great. Some of us don’t have these abilities and i will fight for my child to gain them every way possible.
I have Asthma but not an Asthmatic. Diabetes vs. diabetic? To me diabetic and asthmatic sounds like a descriptive word. Asthma and diabetes sound like medical conditions that one might be dealing with.
I don’t take offense to Autistic but I don’t use the word….when I hear it I replace it with has Autism.

#15 Comment By Susanb On October 6, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

I’m moved by the comments of Cade De Bois regarding the language people use. I, too, feel that the words we use are very important. They give a view into how we feel about the people or thing we’re describing. I’ve always felt that referring to people with diabetes and “diabetics” was to deny their personhood. It lumps a person into a group. So, saying the woman with diabetes conveys that she’s thought of first as a woman and then, also, her life experience involves living with diabetes. I wouldn’t want to be just an arthritic or a diabetic. I want to be respected and acknowledged as me first. So, when refer to my dear friend as a man with autism, I feel like I’m respecting that he’s a person first and always. Am I wrong?

#16 Comment By Sarah On October 8, 2012 @ 11:07 am

@Autistic I say a “person with autism” versus “austistic person” because even though you have the diagnosis of autism it shouldn’t be who you are. You are a person first and your diagnosis really is irrellevant to me. I think it is insulting to describe someone by their medical diagnosis. I have red hair but I wouldn’t expect people to call me that red headed girl, I would expect people to refer to me as just a girl that so happens to have red hair.

#17 Comment By pat m On October 8, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

The people first movement and the political correctness movement have paralyzed our fields and no one knows what the heck is the proper word to refer to our customers. There is a long hesitation every time someone tries to refer to someone and really there is no politically correct way any more. Too bad, really. People have lost empathy for our fields.

#18 Comment By fairlady68 On October 8, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

Energy spent arguing about words could be better employed in making progress on either helping those who want to, to overcome their autistic traits, or else in helping the rest of us find ways to accommodate to our limitations.

#19 Comment By larissa marie m. reyes On October 8, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

Hi, my name is Larissa Marie M. Reyes. and I am also diagnosed with Autism when I was 10 yrs old. My mother struggled a lot for me, and now, I have become improved. I give her all my thanks. Even anyone can give thanks to their parents for supporting them, because without them, we woudn’t become what we wish for and our better selves. So I wish more like us could face the world without fear. And that’s what my mom tells me too. Until now, I still have to work on my social skills, and have some friends. I have gone through bullying and such conflicts. But despite that, I would never give up on my hopes and dreams. Right now and someday, I want to become a good singer and an artist. And I will always pray for that, no matter how long it takes. I also give thanks to the others like me, because we are all the same; and we all want to reach our goals. So let us never give up. Support others in need. And keep moving on forward to our awaiting success. So regarding Wineman’s goals yet to come, I pray for her success as well. I AM PROUD OF YOU :)

#20 Comment By KA101 On October 8, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

For the record: KA101 is a person with asthma, a person with brown hair, a person wearing a green shirt (as of this writing), a person with a brown or red beard (depending on who you ask), a person with autism, and a person who has above-normal facility with English, so he can read and understand this sentence in a second or two, without any significant difficulty.

He’s also asthmatic (exercise and/or cold-induced), brown-haired, green-shirted, brown/red-bearded, autistic, and highly English-fluent.

Odd that nobody’s asked *how* person-first insults us. One of the things I’ve learned about disagreeing is to ask for the disagreed-one’s reasoning–it might be worth knowing.

(I recognize that Cade DeBois has stated autism-first reasoning, as well as the reasoning for person-first stated in several comments, in particular Mav’smyhero et seq. Unfortunately, I still disagree with the PF crowd.)

Short version: Two linked problems with person-first, severablity and value-judgment. Severablity in that person-first implies that the condition (in this case, autism) is not a core part of the person, and value-judgment in that the autism ought to be separated.

Long version below chiefly deals with the value judgment, which is what moves the severablity from mistake to insult.

Rather a lot of us have concluded that fighting our natural ways of being (thinking, speaking, moving, stimming, eating, hearing, or otherwise conducting life activities) takes time and energy that could otherwise be devoted to productive living. That living may not be as productive as the average NT’s life activity, true.

(Since we’re talking about averages, fully half of all NTs are also less productive than that standard.)

However, those of us who make that choice tend to feel better about ourselves when we’re not spending our every waking second trying our best to be something that we are not, and based on the current state of medical science, we never will be.

From this perspective, there’s nothing inherently *wrong* with autism. There is nothing from which to recover. Are we different? Yes. Strange if you’re not autistic, and sometimes even if you are? Almost certainly. (NTs are strange to us too, in case that isn’t obvious.)
But we generally don’t regard ourselves as missing anything. Different tools, so a different approach–but generally about the same results.

Insisting that auties are people first holds that our Autnix ways of living are inferior coping mechanisms at best, and in a perfect world, would be reformatted & replaced with Brain NT (TM). That we are Not Good Enough…But Keep Trying! Maybe NTs go through life just waiting for the next big way of thinking to come along and reshape their entire worldview–seems unlikely to me, but since I’m not an NT I wouldn’t know.

But I do know that we tend not to appreciate being told that our goal in life should be to achieve (or at least reliably pass for) the NT norm.

And on that note, I remind us all of Miss Montana’s platform for the USA pageant. Thanks for your time.

#21 Comment By Dean On October 9, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

Cade: No, it is not okay. “…with autism”, “…has autism” and the like imply that autism can (and should) be separated from us like a wart. It is not like “has brown eyes” at all. It is like “…has Asianness” or “…has blackness”. You would not say those things to Asian or black people, for reasons that have been the subject of much fighting and political wrangling for decades. So why is it acceptable to do this to the autistic?

I think you mean “mixed audience”, but therein lies the rub. We need to make the people who do not get this point get it. We will not achieve that by saying that “…with autism” or “…has autism” is acceptable in any context. It is not acceptable no matter what. The sooner people like you stop saying that it is acceptable in any context, in spite of our wishes, the sooner we can start educating the rest, and the sooner we can stop thinking of people like yourself as “uncle Tom”s.

#22 Comment By Jim W. On October 10, 2012 @ 10:03 am

Holy cow! I grew up in Montana, but am now living in Pennsylvania, raising a beautiful autistic daughter! Great article!

#23 Comment By Jim W. On October 10, 2012 @ 10:08 am

Oh. . . and without addressing the commenters directly. Don’t turn this into a person first article. It’s an article about an autistic girl who is shattering people’s stereotypes about what “autistic looks like” and what sorts of things an autistic person “can” do.

Everyone’s heart is in the right place. The person firsters are only using person first because they want to be respectful. The identity firsters are doing it for the same reason. . . don’t mandate what language others should use. . . just understand we’re all on the same team and congratulate Miss Montana on a kickass pageant win!

#24 Comment By Ethan On October 10, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

Hey Autistic (and others discussing how to refer to folks with the diagnosis):

I am a special education teacher working in an autism program, and in my graduate program they drilled into us that “it’s the person first, then the disability.” So we were taught to say “person with autism” over “autistic.” The idea is that “autistic” minimizes that person to being autistic and nothing else, while “has autism” suggests that their autism is just one part of who they are. I think it’s interesting that you feel the opposite way. Can you explain why you prefer “autistic” over “has autism?” Thanks for sharing!

#25 Comment By christine On October 11, 2012 @ 11:58 am

I believe in ability not disability. Miss Wineman my son is 16 and is diagnosed with ID. We focus on what he can do and build on it. It’s nice to see you believe in ability too :D. You are an inspiration. Thank you for making my day!

#26 Comment By KA101 On October 11, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

Re Ethan: I did. I realize it’s a long post, but the reasoning’s there. (For instance, autistic-identity isn’t “minimizing”.) If you have more specific questions, feel free to ask those.

Try googling for “Why I dislike person-first”; Jim’s article is widely reposted, and the ASAN page has plenty of links–even some to support PF, if you insist.

#27 Comment By sidney katz On October 11, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

iam so happy for you to try for miss america constant i hope you win iam a self adavcacy in new jeresy

#28 Comment By Anna-Lena Andersen On October 12, 2012 @ 9:50 am

You have given us so much hope. I am a grandmother with an autistic grandchild, who is different but a beautiful human being. Odd at times but I would not want him to be in any other way. He is precious to us. Thank you and all the luck in the world.

#29 Comment By emma On October 22, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

Good luck! I hope she will do great! I was diagnosed with aspergers at the age of 15 and a half! It’s upset me a lot, but I really hope she does well, gets noticed that someone on the autisum spectrum can amount to anything, just like ‘normal’ people do! Im excited for her <3

#30 Comment By Glen S On October 27, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

Ethan: Those you have addressed believe autism is an identity. They are adults who believe the rest of us should default to antiquated belief systems regarding the nature of disabilities.

My deceased son had multiple disabilities, physical and cognitive. Unlike many with autism, my son would not have ever been able to communicate or move without the aid of specialized devises. And he would always need 24 hour care. However, his identity was not shaped by his disabilities and regardless of the views of anyone here; neither is anyone else’s.

Those who have posted who advocate identity language appear to feel the rest of society needs to bend to what they believe is in their best interest. We are to do this without asking a single question although it is the taxpayer who actually has the greatest financial stake in the discussion.

In addition Ethan, they feel they speak for disability community as a whole. This belief is as insulting as it is false.

#31 Comment By ann marie On January 8, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

I’m not sure I believe you, Cade. And, yes, I have some “authority” on it as well.

#32 Comment By just sayin’ On January 10, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

I am a person with ADD, I am not “ADD-ic” or whatnot. I am not my ADD. It is just a part of me and I don’t want to be defined by it; I agree with the person-first approach. However if the person puts something in an uncomfortable way by referring to someone as “autistic”, or “diabetic” or what have you, I also consider the speaker’s intention. Not everyone is a linguist (as I am), and not knowing how to phrase something is not the same as judging someone negatively.

#33 Comment By Kent Adams On January 20, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Autism is diagnosed by the age of 3. If the diagnosis didn’t occur until 11 years old, then that is not idiopathic autism, its perhaps autism “very lite” or something, but its not true autism, classical autism. Classical Autism isn’t something that is missed early in life.


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