Miss Montana Alexis Wineman
Alexis Wineman is the first Miss America contestant to have been diagnosed with autism Facebook/MissMontana2012

Miss Montana Alexis Wineman is the first contestant in the history of the Miss America beauty pageant to have been diagnosed with autism.

The 18-year-old, who is also the youngest contestant in the Las Vegas show, said: "Growing up, I never was really interested in pageants. I thought it would be something I was never able to do. 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?'" Wineman told Today

Wineman was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder and borderline Asperger's syndrome at the age of 11. "I felt like it came 11 years too late, 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," she said.

In a video for the beauty pageant, Wineman explained that she would like to use the Miss America platform to help spread awareness of autism.

"Most people do not understand what autism is," Wineman said. "And one in 88 people having some form of autism -- this understanding is becoming more and more necessary."

"We cannot cure what is not a sickness," she says in the clip, "But we can begin to understand autism, and help those with the condition to unlock the potential that lies within all of us."

She also credits her family for supporting her through the bad times.

"I feel like I was given my autism for a reason, that God gave it to me for a reason," Wineman said, "to show people that a girl with a few differences is Miss America material...I grew up not knowing that."

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Below is a selection of photos of the remarkable Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman...