Michigan beauty queen triumphs over bullies, using platform to help other kids

You can call Elizabeth Wirth a beauty queen. You can call her a future college freshman and maybe even a future teacher. But don't call this woman with autism worthless or autistic.

Elizabeth is 19 years old. She's a high school graduate, heading to college, and has a beauty crown and sash. She also has autism.

"I have so many labels. I have high school graduate, incoming freshman, athlete, but not one of those labels is autistic because that's not me. I define myself and autism is not going to define me," 

Elizabeth is a freshman at Adrian college and was diagnosed with autism when she in elementary school in Ida. She was also one of the youngest students in her class after she repeated the 3rd grade.

"Between the struggles we knew she was having and the age difference, we determined it was in her best interests to put her in 3rd grade again," said her mom, Kim Kaus-Wirth.

That decision would make her life at school a nightmare.

"I had kids below me that passed me in the hallway - a grade below me - and they'd go, 'hey! aren't you the stupid girl that had to repeat 3rd grade?" So, my title, amongst my peers, one of my first titles was the stupid girl who had to repeat the 3rd grade," Elizabeth said.

As a young child, she was depressed as she started to believe her classmates.

"I kept a bag packed because I wanted to run away. And I had peers telling me that I should just go kill myself because I'm worthless. And because my last name being Wirth, they decided to nickname me Lizzie worthless," Elziabeth said. "The worst thing that happened was I started to believe all of those girls and those boys," 

It was so hard for her, she even contemplated suicide.

"I would keep a knife under my bed at some points and times. I always had a bag packed. It's not easy," she said.

Her mom and dad had no idea.

"We never saw it, had she acted on it we would have been totally blindsided by it," said Roger Wirth.

"You should be worrying what toy you're gonna play with and what birthday party you're going to or what's for lunch the next day. Not that kind of thing," said Kim.

"Her disposition is always happy. So it was tough to see what was going on in the classroom. We'd come in, even as late as high school, there'd be group activities and she'd be off by herself," said Roger.

Now, Elizabeth is sharing her story because she wants people to know that words can have a devastating effect.

"It's just amazing that people find joy in tearing other people down, I don't get that," said Elizabeth.

Now a grown woman and heading to college, Elizabeth was recently crowned USA National Miss Michigan Teen 2019 - but she's not done.

"I'm going back to nationals. I'm going to be the USA National Miss Midwest. So I move up from teen to the Miss category which is kinda scary, but I'm super excited," she said.

She's using her platform to educate people about autism and the effects of bullying, while proving those kids who called her stupid, wrong.

"When I get the look of you have autism ... that's why my platform is so important to me, because of those looks of 'you have autism' and the 'oh no you don't have autism, you're just stupid,'" she said.

She's also making changes to her own school so other 3rd graders hopefully don't go through what she fought through. When she was in high school, Elizabeth worked to get a Buddy Bench build and installed at her old elementary playground. 

The idea, is that when a child is sitting on the bench, other children should know to walk up and talk with them. She says it works.

"There's been so many kids that have gone up to here, and they've been able to sit down and have a friend," Elizabeth said. "(Elementary school) is a really important time for these kids. Social skills are a big thing and this is an educational tool. It's also teaching children a little bit more accepting of each other."

Elizabeth's struggles and accomplishments have taught her lessons that she's now passing on to others. That's something she hopes to continue to do, after college.

"I want to be the teacher that notices when a kid is struggling, whether it's socially or in the classroom and I want to be able to help our Michigan kids to get that education that they need and to be able to strive."