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Miss Teen USA working to help those with autism

Her year of official appearances, speeches and literally carrying the banner for Miss Nevada Teen USA 2011 is nearing its close, but 18-year-old Ashley Brown feels as if she's just getting started.

The Nevada Virtual Academy senior has been fulfilling her crowned duties as well as raising awareness for autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks, in honor of her brother who lives with the disorder.

She traveled to the Bahamas in June to compete in the Miss Teen USA pageant but didn't clinch a new title. In turn, she sharpened her interview skills and pinpointed goals to earn a business degree.

She also plans to try for the Miss Nevada title when she turns 21. The pageant is also owned by the Miss Universe Organization and Donald Trump.

But shortly before it all, Brown had no pageant experience.

"I used to be a big tomboy, and all I wore was jeans and T-shirts," Brown said. "My mom was going to enter my younger sister in a pageant, so I joined with her. My mom dressed me up like her little princess."

Brown won the first few pageants she entered in mid-2010 and decided to step things up that fall.

She was crowned Miss Nevada Teen USA 2011 during the Miss Nevada USA pageant show in November 2010 at the College of Southern Nevada. Her year reign was extended to January 2012.

"This is a lot of fun," Brown said.

Although her family is stationed on Nellis Air Force Base, North Las Vegas has adopted her as its own, said Brown's mother April Bagwell-Brown.

"They've been so supportive," Brown said. "I consider North Las Vegas where I live. Whatever I'm doing out there, they seem appreciative and love to see the crown and sash."

Brown's family often travels with her to appearances and charity events.

"We make sure Ashley represents Nevada as she could," Bagwell-Brown said.

Her title has also offered her some fun opportunities, Brown said. For her birthday in October, Brown did the Sky Jump ride off the top of the Stratosphere, 2000 Las Vegas Blvd. South.

She also sky dove indoors and out of a plane, she said.

"Yes, she gets to do fun things like photo shoots and modeling, but she really wanted to use her platform to raise awareness for Autism Speaks," Bagwell-Brown said.

Brown's brother, who is younger than her by one year, has autism spectrum disorder.

"It could have been me in those shoes," she said.

Brown said she likes to highlight that families can cope -- and thrive -- with the disorder.

A message she often relays is, "We can get through it," Brown said.

Another fringe benefit to Brown's title has been gaining knowledge she can use in future job interviews, said Bagwell-Brown.

Brown struggled to find part-time work before she started entering pageants, her mother said.

"Us being military and not knowing many people to get even (a foot) in the door, it's hard for the teenagers to get a job," she said. "She thought, 'If I can get some judges to pick me, I can surely get someone to hire me.' "

Brown plans to graduate from high school in June and immediately start college courses online. She will hand her crown and sash over to the new Miss Nevada Teen USA winner Jan. 28 and 29 at the Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Road.

"I'm proud of what I've accomplished," she said. "It's just, 'Wow.' "

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Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at or 477-3839.