(NEW YORK) — Miss Montana Alexis Wiseman, 18, will be the youngest contestant when she takes the stage at this weekend’s Miss America competition in Las Vegas. And no matter the outcome, she will also go down in the Miss America record books as the 92-year-old pageant’s first contestant diagnosed with autism.
“The girl you’re seeing right now is not the girl you would have seen 10 years ago,” Wiseman told ABC News. “I have overcome a lot. I have overcome so many of my symptoms.”
Wiseman was first diagnosed at age 11 with the developmental disorder that affects one’s social and communication skills. Even though she was considered highly functioning, Wiseman recalls being ridiculed for her speech impediment and intense shyness.
“I would stay in my room for hours, not wanting to talk to anyone,” she said. “Growing up, I barely hung out with anyone and that’s because I was afraid of being laughed at.”
Wiseman, a recent high school graduate, credits her family with enabling her to become comfortable in her own skin. As she got older, she began to try new things, including cross-country running and cheerleading, even becoming captain of her squad in her senior year.
She entered the Miss Montana competition on a whim.
“I realized I’d done a lot of things I never thought I’d be able to do, so what’s stopping me from at least trying,” she said.
Wiseman went on to win and. Now, in a competition filled with struts, smiles and outgoing personalities, she will find her place on stage Saturday night in front of a worldwide television audience.
“It just really kind of hit me that, holy, holy crap, I’m at Miss America,” she said of her experience so far in Las Vegas preparing for the competition.
If Wiseman — who, according to the hometown paper, plans to attend the University of Montana to pursue a degree in art therapy after her reign — makes it far enough into the competition to reach the talent portion, she hopes to lighten things up with her comedy routine.
“I realized if I laugh at myself, then that’s OK,” she said.
Watch Pageant Confidential: The Road to Miss America Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio