In many ways, 8-year-old Miley Raymond is just like any other kid her age.
She loves playing games on the computer — especially Minecraft — and she recently started her own YouTube Channel called SmileyMileyDay.
“I like to post videos on my YouTube Channel,” she said. “Just for fun.”
But on Dec. 4, Miley was chosen as one of the winners of the 2017 Miss Exceptional Pageant, which gives a voice to girls with disabilities and works to develop their self confidence and communication skills. The pageant was held at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup during the Victorian Country Christmas.
The Miss Exceptional Pageant was founded in 2015 by 18-year-old Samantha Schubert, who was inspired by her brother, who was diagnosed with autism and a neuromuscular disorder called Charot-Marie-Tooth disease.
Miley’s mother, Christi Davis, heard about the pageant through Samantha’s mom, Beth, and thought the pageant would be a good opportunity for Miley to develop the empathy, sympathy and social sides of her.
Because Miley’s differences, Davis said, also make her unique — and the judges of the Miss Exceptional Pageant agreed.
Miley was diagnosed sensory processing disorder in 2012, when she was 3 years old. Those who have sensory processing disorder can experience oversensitivity with their surroundings. Several years later, when Miley was 5, she was diagnosed with autism. As Miley grew older, her diagnoses manifested in the form of crashing into things around her. At their home, they have a crash pad for her to use, Davis said.
Miley also has a specially-made necklace that she can chew on when she gets nervous or anxious. She doesn’t go to too many social gatherings.
“She’s very high-functioning, but there are a lot of things she doesn’t like doing,” Davis said.
School is one of those things. In her early years in education, Miley attended school in the Puyallup School District before they recently moved to Renton. She had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) developed for her with help from the Exceptional Families Network, a local group that supports children with special needs and their families and is also behind the Miss Exceptional Pageant.
“When she comes home from school, it’s like she’s worked a 9-to-5 (job),” Davis said. “She wants to come home and relax.”
Miley might think the same about competing in a pageant, Davis thought, and not want to do it. But in the end, Miley ended up agreeing.
“It was hard,” Miley admitted about going through with the pageant.
“I was surprised she agreed to participate in doing something like this,” Davis admitted.
Together, Davis and Miley picked out dresses, trying out three or four to make sure it was the right fit and texture for Miley to move around in.
The day of the competition, Davis wasn’t sure how Miley was going to feel going up on stage.
“When we first got there, she was a little nervous,” Davis said.
But it became clear that Miley, while on the quieter side with those she doesn’t know, stood out in front of a crowd. While on stage, she shared some facts about herself, and a joke: “Why do you never give Elsa (from the Disney movie “Frozen”) a balloon? Because she’ll let it go.”
She also loves being in front of a camera, when she’s free to speak her mind — another testament to the importance of her YouTube channel.
And when she was crowned Little Miss Exceptional, she was beaming.
“I really enjoyed seeing the spark of Miley’s personality during the competition,” pageant coordinator Beth Schubert said. “Seeing her confidence and strength on the stage really demonstrated why we have a Miss Exceptional Pageant.”
Miley was one of three girls in the Miss Exceptional Little category and came out the winner. About 20 girls ranging from 5 years old to 18 and older participated in the pageant.
It was Davis’ goal for the pageant to help Miley grow, and she thinks that Miss Exceptional was a positive experience for her daughter, who’s already planning her next YouTube video.
“I think that this is going to be good for Miley,” Davis said.
And when it came down to answering whether or not she’d compete in a pageant again, Miley’s answer was a clear “yes.”