Miss Montana made history this past weekend. She didn’t make history for winning the Miss America Pageant, but for a much more important reason. Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana, made history because she was the first Miss America contestant with autism to compete in the pageant.

Alexis made the semi-finals, the top 15, thanks in part to the love and admiration of her fans. She received the pageant’s America’s Choice award for receiving the most votes in a national online competition. It is obvious her inspiration and courage touched more than just Montana, it spread throughout America. She has done an outstanding job raising awareness for autism.

Autism affects 1 in every 88 children and “is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.“ No one knows why this disability seems to be growing at such a rapid rate. As of yet, there is no cure for autism, though some children can overcome it with the help of professionals. I know adults who were born with autism but you wouldn’t know it if you met them today.

With staggering numbers like these, it is hard to find someone who is not affected by it in some way. Chances are you have a friend or family member who is affected by autism.

With autism being such a prevalent disability in the U.S., there is a great need for increased awareness. What better spokesperson is there to represent autism than someone who has it? Alexis Wineman is more than just a pretty face, she is the face of autism.

Joy Larson is a mother of four boys, graduate of The University of Montana, animal lover and writer.