By guest author
Miss Montana 2012
One would think that after such a long time to finally have a real diagnosis of what was wrong with me I would be relieved, but at the age 11 all I really knew was that this “thing” I had was ruining my life and I may never get better. That is what I felt when the term “autism” entered my family’s life. My parents were very relieved to finally have a name of what was wrong with me, but what they did not seem to understand was that just because it had a name did not mean the bullying and teasing would end, that my speech problems would end or that I would suddenly be accepted by my classmates. All I knew was that I was still having meltdowns and that school was where I did not want to be.
School was something to survive. Although there were teachers who tried to help me get organized, middle school was so overwhelming. Changing classes, keeping up with a homework planner, all the different books were more than I could handle. The only time I felt good was when I was by myself. My brother, who is five years older than me, pushed me into joining the cross country team. The middle school and high school team trained together and he wanted me to learn what it is like to belong to a group that does not judge you and accepts you for who you are. My coaches were tough, but they were tough on everyone, and we always knew how much they cared about each of us. It was the first time I truly felt like I belonged and I will always be grateful to my brother for pushing me out of my comfort zone.
As I entered high school I was finally beginning to learn real coping measures, but still had the normal fears of moving up in school. Luckily… I had the cross country team to be involved with, but my Mom made me try out for cheer-leading with my two sisters. Loved cross country, hated cheer-leading. As my Mom put it, I did not play well in the sandbox with the other girls. I didn’t understand why they acted the way they did, hated dressing up (loved my jeans and big hoodies) and hated makeup even more. They did not find me funny and were annoyed by my behavior. School did not improve a whole lot, but I guess my parents were just thrilled I was still in school. I continued with my speech therapy, but was so embarrassed when I was pulled out of class for it. I was also introduced to the Speech and Drama Team, again thanks to my three siblings, and I found my “voice” there… well not completely since I was too scared to do public speaking so I performed pantomime.
My sophomore did not go much better, except I refused to do cheer-leading! School was not good primarily due to math. I just could not seem to keep up with the workload. Peer pressure and the bullying about my speech caused to me to make a decision I have come to regret the most and that was quitting therapy. My siblings were planning college and just being fantastic in whatever they did, for which I was very proud of them, but it did make me constantly think about how I would probably never graduate and be able to go to college.
After sophomore year, my Mom and I sat down several times and talked about the future. She assured me that I had a future, but that despite the challenges I had to deal with daily, I needed an attitude adjustment going into my junior year. I worked hard to be more positive and when school started, I decided that if I wanted to go to college I was also going to need scholarships since I was the fourth child. This meant building a resume, so I started getting more involved, and yes I did go back to cheer-leading. It was so much better than it was my freshmen year. Cross country was still my love and speech and drama was great. Yes I still had a few meltdowns, but the best part of the year was that my twin sister and I really bonded and became the best of friends. In the past, I always held resentment toward her for not having the struggles I did. It was at her final speech and drama round at the state competition that I finally had a chance to hear her original oratory speech. Going into the round she was in first place, but during her final speech she looked up and saw me there and started crying while she was speaking. You see her speech was about autism and what it was like to grow up with a twin sister who has autism and how I was her hero. Needless to say she did not win state, but what she did accomplish was to make me realize that autism was not a death sentence, but a life adventure. I decided that I needed to own my autism and define it instead of letting it define me.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…
I am Miss Montana 2012. My platform is “Normal is Just a Dryer Setting- Living with Autism.” I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder known as PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified) in the 7th grade. I had always known I was different, and I struggled with the aspects of myself that made me different. I have a speech impediment, and communication can be difficult for me. I have improved my speech greatly and continue to do so. I will never stop trying to improve. All these things have made me feel very uncomfortable and insecure in the past, but in the past few years, I have come to realize that it is my differences that make me interesting and inspiring. My goal is to educate as many people as possible about autism: what it is, and how to cope with it.
For my talent I perform a comedic monologue entitled, “I Think, Therefore, I am Fat,” by Mickey Guisewite. This monologue comically addresses the negative effects society has had on women’s body image. In high school, my involvement with the speech and drama team helped me learn to speak clearly and effectively. I have since developed a passion for acting and an even larger passion for making people laugh.
I have been so blessed with this opportunity to represent the great state of Montana. I would like to thank my hometown of Cut Bank, the Miss Montana Scholarship Program board of directors, my family and my friends. I would not be able to be the successful young woman I am without their never-ending support.