Kids with autism spectrum disorders who struggle with social anxiety have a new role model in the pageantry world: 19-year-old Alexandria Hodnik, who has Asperger’s syndrome and recently competed in the Miss New York USA pageant. In 2013, Asperger’s Sydrome was folded into the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, no longer being used as a standalone diagnosis. After years of struggling with communication skills, Hodnik started competing in beauty pageants to overcome her social anxiety, which helped her become more outgoing and serve as proof that a disability doesn’t have to hold anyone back.
“Sometimes I say to myself, ‘Why am I different than other people,’ but sometimes I’ll just be like, ‘I’m just me, I like who I am, and I don’t let people think of me differently,’” Hodnik told Today.
After having competed in the 2019 Miss New York USA pageant, Hodnik says she feels more confident than ever. She credits much of her success to her mother, who never failed provide support.
“Ally always needed some type of structure, and if things went out of her norm, the whole day was ruined,” said Alexandria’s mother, Carolyn Hodnik. “When I noticed that there was an underlying thing was probably when she was three or four, and I put her socks on before I put her pants on, and it ruined her day, because I was suppose to put her pants on first, and then her socks.”
“I was always shy,” Hodnik said. “It was hard for me to make friends, and I was always afraid that people wouldn’t like me for who I am because I was different than them.”
Hodnik’s mother expressed that Asperger’s presented unique challenges for both herself and Alexandria. “It was hard because as her parent, how do you explain to your child… she used to say to me, ’Mommy, why am I different?” Carolyn said.
But Hodnik said that ever since she started competing in pageants, she has gained more confidence. “I really have bad communication skills with other people, so I’m really learning how to get out there now and learning how to communicate with people and everything, and I feel that that’s big for me,” she said.
Hodnik started competing in beauty pageants when she was 18. Since then, she has placed highly in a handful of local events. Her mom said she was a different person before she became a pageant competitor.
“Before Ally started pageants she was very afraid to meet new people, she was afraid to do new things, there was a lot of anxiety, and now it’s a lot more calm, and she loves herself more, and I think it’s made her a better person,” Carolyn said.
“What I noticed when I first met Ally was that she wasn’t your typical teen,” said Shiemicka LaShanne, Hodnik’s pageant coach. “She was very outgoing and very good at giving constructive criticism to girls.”
Hodnik recently competed for the first time in the adult division of pageantry at the Miss World America Pageant in White Plains. She placed in the top 10 at the competition.
“You make this huge sisterhood, and it’s just the most amazing feeling ever, and I love it,” Hodnik said. “Every time I go on stage, I get scared, and that’s okay. It really does help me grow as a person because I’m actually getting something out there and making a difference to other people who have Asperger’s like me.”
“It’s almost like she was born to do this,” Hodnik’s mother said. “She gets on stage, and she just becomes a completely different person.”
“I just want [people with Asperger’s] to see that even though you have a disability, anything could be possible,” Alexandria said.
Main Image: Hodnik in competition. Credit Today