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Miss Montana: First autistic Miss America contestant

4:59 PM, Jan 16, 2013   |    comments
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Wineman, 18, was the pageant's first autistic competitor.

"Growing up, I never was really interested in pageants. I thought it would be something I was never able to do," Wineman told Today.

"I was wondering why I was different, why I couldn't make any friends, why I was bullied. I just kept asking myself, 'Why, why, why?'"

Finally, at age 11, Wineman was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder and borderline Asperger's syndrome, conditions on the autism spectrum.

"I felt like it came 11 years too late," she said. "But when it came right down to it, it really did help. I found ways to cope. I was able to move on. By the time I graduated, I was really accepting who I was."

As for the pageant world, she tells Time it started as a way to pay for college.

"Around high school graduation, I realized I was the fourth child in my family to go to college, and there was no money left for me. I asked my mom about different ways to get scholarships, and she mentioned the Miss Montana competition, thinking I'd never go for it. But I did, and I won."

She has formed partnerships with the autism groups Autism Speaks and Generation Rescue and the special needs support group AbilityPath. It's all provided her with a perfect platform for Miss America: Living with Autism.

And, she's apparently funny. Her talent for the show was stand-up comedy.

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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