A Guest Blog by Alexis Wineman
There are those moments in life when an event or situation becomes the catalyst to recognizing someone who has made an impact in our lives, or was there when no one else was to help lift us up during a difficult or challenging time. I am having one of those moments.
I will be the first to admit, my childhood was not the easiest for me or my family. Learning to live with autism has had its challenges, and it took its toll on my three siblings and parents. I was not what some would call a “typical” child. I missed many of my infant milestones, was withdrawn, prone to epic emotional outburst (aka tantrums), had sensory issues, and needed lots of rituals to get through each day. Today, I am 21, happy, thriving and going to college like others my age — something I couldn’t even imagine as a little girl. I still process social situations uniquely, and my brain is wired to work the way it wants to work, which makes learning in a traditional environment a challenge at times, but it’s who I am. I have chosen not to let autism define me and honestly it took me awhile to get to this point. Looking back at my journey, there is at least one person who helped shape me life – my oldest sister Danielle Wineman.
Danielle was the only one in my family who could help calm me during my meltdowns. She was patient, kind, encouraging and never allowed me to use autism as an excuse for not trying to do something. She taught me to face my fears and constantly encouraged me to go outside my comfort zone and try new things, like cheerleading and theater. I wasn’t always nice to Danielle either. I lashed out at her on many occasions because I was frustrated with myself and hadn’t developed coping skills. She could have ignored me, or walked away, but she didn’t. She stuck with me and loved me unconditionally. Because of Danielle’s support, I was able to break out of my shell, face my fears and eventually compete in the Miss Montana and Miss America competitions three years ago. Danielle was with me every step of the way, and was one of my biggest fans. Now it’s my turn to support her.
Danielle, who was crowned Miss Montana this year, will compete in the Miss America Competition on Sunday, September 13, 2015. Her platform is “Acting on Compassion” — using theater and role playing as a way to teach all ages compassion and empathy towards those who are different. I am very proud of my sister. Compassion is one of the most important human traits when it comes to accepting those who are different, or those with additional needs. Danielle is using the opportunity as Miss Montana to show the importance of living a life of compassion – something a sibling with a sister or brother with special needs learns early in life. My journey on the autism spectrum, isn’t just mine alone, it is my family’s journey too. Our lives were forever changed with my diagnosis, but I would like to think each of us is a bit stronger, even a bit better because of it. Even if Danielle isn’t crowned Miss America, she will always be a role model, a confidant and a best friend to me … and I will always be her biggest fan.
If you have a sibling who made a lasting impact on your life, please share your story with me on my Facebook page by clicking HERE. To see a clip of Danielle Wineman talking about our home state of Montana, please click HERE.
ABOUT ALEXIS WINEMAN – Ambassador to AbilityPath
Alexis Wineman’s journey started long before being crowned Miss Montana 2012, and ultimately the “America’s Choice” contestant in the 2012 Miss America competition. Prior to the Miss America 2012 competition, Alexis rarely wore high heels and makeup. The competition for her was an opportunity to challenge herself and prove wrong her naysayers who never thought the shy, quiet girl in a hoodie could actually compete on one of the biggest stages in America. That opportunity turned out to be so much more, Alexis was also representing a community, a community of 1 in 88 children in the United States who are diagnosed with autism. Her unique personal story as the first Miss America contestant diagnosed with autism and the third contestant with a disability since the competition’s inception in 1921 made headlines around the world. She was named by Diane Sawyer as the “Person of the Week” on World News Tonight, and was profiled in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s series “Human Factors: Overcoming Obstacles” on CNN. She also made appearances on Fox and Friends, Good Morning America, 20/20, The Jeff Probst Show and was interviewed online for the Today Show, E!News, People, Time, USA Today, and the Huffington Post. Glamour magazine featured Alexis in its April 2013 issue as the “Most Popular Girl in America”. Alexis was recently recognized as a titleholder who has had a significant impact on pageantry. At the age of 11, Alexis was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified), an autism spectrum disorder. She was in middle school when officially diagnosed but felt different from an early age. As she got older, she struggled with some of the aspects that come with an autism diagnosis, like a speech impediment, communication challenges, sensitivity to sounds and other sensory sensitivities. Part of her struggle was the bullying that resulted because of her differences. Fortunately, her family was and continues to be a source of strength and inspiration for her. Her twin and two other siblings helped Alexis get involved more with school life—she joined cheerleading, drama and cross country. Her confidence in herself began to grow, which helped her improve her speech and cope with other challenges. Alexis still faces some of the same challenges but strongly believes that anyone, with autism or without, should never stop trying to improve themselves. Alexis remains grateful for the Miss America experience. Through it, she found her voice and has become a sought after speaker who is dedicated to building acceptance and awareness about autism and encouraging others to reach and aim high, because anything is possible. Alexis’ hometown is Cut Bank, Montana and she is currently a freshman at Huntingdon College, in Montgomery, AL. Alexis was the lead in a recent school play and enjoys art, drama, video games, comedy and is a WWE fan. Her talent at Miss America was performance of a comedic monologue; she gets great joy in making people laugh. Alexis wants more people to understand that autism doesn’t define her, she defines her autism.