Alexis Wineman wasn’t on campus to promote pageantry. In fact, she isn’t even fond of pageants, heels and makeup in the first place. She was here to speak about living with and around autism.
Wineman, Miss Montana 2012 and the “America’s Choice” winner of the 2013 Miss America pageant, spoke in the K-State Student Union Ballroom on Wednesday.
In her speech “Autism Does Not Define Me,” Wineman spoke volumes about how people treat others with autism, how autistic people of all ages face hurdles at every stage of life and how everyone can better themselves by throwing away the old ideas about autism in the workplace and in the world.
The Union Program Council put the event together with the help of the Student Access Center. Their goal was to bring someone who could “expand the definition of multiculturalism,” said Abby Sarvis, senior in modern languages and hospitality management.
“When you meet someone with autism, you have only met one person with autism,” Wineman said, before kicking off her heels and standing flat-footed at the microphone. “None of us are the same.”
Wineman said she and her twin, Amanda, were born five weeks early. Amanda was seen as normal while Alexis couldn’t walk until she was two or talk until she was three. Her family, other students and teachers were stand-offish, insulting and rude to her after she was misdiagnosed with depression at a young age.
Wineman sprinkled in joke after joke between harrowing stories of her childhood and teenage years to make it easier for the audience to understand her story.
“Comedy makes people want to listen,” she said.
And it did. Though her story included sadness and some tears, the ballroom was filled with laugh after laugh.
Two weeks before the Miss Montana pageant in 2012, Alexis was applying for college scholarships. Upon seeing how much her life after high school was going to cost, she decided to compete in the pageant.
“I had never worn heels before in my life and the only makeup experience I ever had was the face paintings at homecoming games,” Wineman said.
But she decided it was worth it to at least try, if not for the prize money then at least for the experience of stepping out of her comfort zone.
With the encouragement of her parents and three siblings, she went on to win the 2012 Miss Montana pageant and become the first-ever woman on the autism spectrum to participate in the Miss America pageant.
Wineman realized she could inform and help people with autism by becoming an advocate and traveling to educate others on autism.
“We wanted to bring Alexis Wineman specifically so we can tell students that these people do exist on our campus and we should be aware of this community and how they affect us,” Sarvis said.