Mason girl with autism to grace national stage after winning Ohio’s pageant crown

‘It literally brought tears to my eyes’
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 10:22 PM EST
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WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - A local middle-schooler just overcame the odds en route to one of the biggest wins of her life, and now she’s set to represent Ohio before the nation.

Layla Wright is an eighth-grade student at Mason Middle School. Her message of inclusion helped her to win the U.S. American Miss Ohio Junior Teen Crown.

“Honestly, it felt like I was in my own dream and that I couldn’t get out of it, and it was very unbelievable,” she said of Wednesday’s competition.

Layla’s victory stretched past the glitz and glamor of the pageant scene, as she competed on a platform of autism awareness. It’s a cause close to her heart. Layla is on the autism spectrum, and she says communicating with others can be challenging.

“I don’t think of it as a bad thing,” she said, “because I know I still have the ability to think outside the box and still figure things out myself and sill be creative in my own way and still be unique.”

Layla’s parents, Monique and Robert Wright, say they started her in pageants four years go as a way to help her gain confidence.

Layla navigated her learning disability, which also complicates forging friendships, during the pandemic, and she says it left her feeling lost. Her parents say her willingness now to be herself shows how far she’s come.

“When she told me, ‘I want to talk about autism awareness,’ it literally brought tears to my eyes,” Monique said. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ Because, kids can be so mean.”

Layla says she’s felt nothing but support from the Mason community. She says sharing her story has allowed her to better appreciated herself for exactly who she is.

“I was afraid to say I have high-functioning autism because I was afraid that people would look at me weird,” she said. “But when I first said I it, people actually cared about it, and I was like, ‘Wow!’”

While Layla readies herself to represent Ohio on the national stage, she and her parents say they want above all else every child to know they too can make their dreams come true.

“This was the moment that solidified, like, if she can do this, there are so many girls out there that can,” Robert said.

The U.S. American Miss Junior Teen Pageant will be held in Florida in July.

Layla says she’s nervous but excited to represent her home state.

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