Miss Missouri, brother team up to raise awareness and tackle the stigma around autism

Tuesday marks the 17th annual World Autism Awareness Day

Miss Missouri 2023 Hayley Leach and her brother Matthew are raising awareness about autism in an effort to tackle the stigma surrounding the developmental disorder.

Matthew, who was diagnosed with autism in 2002, said Sunday on "Fox News Live" that he wants people to know Autism Awareness Day is about acceptance and understanding the skills, talents and "overall character" of people who have autism. 

"I think this would be perfect for people who don't have a general understanding to have a better appreciation for, not just people on the spectrum, but for understanding people in general," he said.

Hayley Leach (left) and Matthew Leach (right).

placeholderHayley explained that she has been an autism advocate since her brother was diagnosed. 


"As I've grown older, I've not only been able to use my platform as Miss Missouri to travel the country and educate others on autism awareness, acceptance and inclusion, but I'm also a second-year law student at Washington University in Saint Louis, and I plan on being a lifelong advocate as I become a special education attorney one day," she told guest host Jonathan Hunt. 

Matthew, a biology major and senior at the University of Kentucky, said people can show their support for autism by educating themselves on the disorder and attending awareness-sponsored events in an effort to bring more inclusive activities. 

A brain puzzle

Autism is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.  (iStock)

Hayley agreed with her brother, saying more can be done to create more inclusive practices for people with autism, not just in school but in communities and employment as well. 

"Those with autism have a wide variety of skills that can be utilized if we just look beyond stereotypes and misunderstandings," said the 2023 Miss Missouri winner. 

"I'm beyond proud of [my brother]. I'm probably the proudest big sister in the world, I would say. I'm just so proud of everything that he has accomplished, and I can't wait to see the amazing things he continues to do throughout his life," she added.  


Roughly 1 in 45 adults in the U.S. have autism, according to Autism Speaks, a charity organization that seeks to provide advocacy and support to people with the disorder.

Hayley Leach, the 2023 Miss Missouri winner, and her brother Matthew.

Matthew plans on obtaining a master’s degree in the near future and says he’s proud of the person he’s become and grateful for the support of those around him, including his "biggest supporter"-- his sister.

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