New Mrs. Scott County International advocates for autistic
Shakopee Valley News - 3/4/2017
With 20 years of experience in broadcasting, Shakopee resident Stephanie Welter is use to having a platform. You can even hear her hosting Mondays on 98.5 KTIS, a Twin Cities Christian station, or on programs produced for nationally syndicated Christian contemporary radio.
But this year Welter has been crowned with a new role and platform as Mrs. Scott County International.
"I had been approached three years in a row by representatives of the autism community and people who had experience with the international system," she said. "They said, 'Here's the deal: you'd be given an opportunity to speak on the platform you're passionate about.'"
Welter's passion, and platform, is advocating for the inclusion of autistic community members within schools, workplaces and housing.
Welter grew into her advocacy when one of her four children was diagnosed with autism. Over the years, she got involved with the Special Olympics, Families for Effective Autism Treatment and the Lazarus Project, which provides therapy to children with autism and their families.
The Mrs. International Pageant system was created to celebrate the achievement of married women and a commitment to their communities, families and marriages. Under the competition rules, 50 percent of the score hinges on contestant interviews and the rest is split between an evening gown and fitness-wear category. Welter's husband, Wade Welter, will escort her during the evening gown portion and crown her if she wins.
The state Mrs. International competition is not until late April, so for now Welter wants to spend her time as Mrs. Scotty County International educating the community on the mutual benefit of empowering those with autism.
"[This] doesn't feel like a beauty pageant to me, it feels like an opportunity to speak on something and maybe open some more opportunities," Welter said. "I think most people don't realize how mutual this relationship can be."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder in 2012. Other organization's show even higher rates of diagnosis in recent data.
"There's a whole group, generation, coming up now that were diagnosed in the late-'90s into the mid-2000s," Welter said. "They're going to need support and they're starting to come of age now."
As Mrs. Scott County International, Welter wants to start community dialogue around supported living and programs for autistic adults leaving school and transitioning into higher education or the work force.
"These days there are so many resources accessible and different ways to pay for it and insurance is covering a lot now," she said. "Just be specific and never stop advocating for your child."
"You're their best advocate."