Brianna Stone Waryan is more than just a pretty face.
The 8-year-old third-grader in Mrs. Montalto’s third grade class at Donlin Drive Elementary in Liverpool will compete in Saturday’s Miss Jr. Pre-Teen Syracuse/Binghamton pageant, vying against numerous other young ladies in such categories as talent, casual wear, formal wear and interview.
But Waryan, who is autistic and deals with sensory processing disorder, has a more important message she hopes to spread at the pageant.
“People should not be bullying in school,” she said. “It’s kind of mean. I’ve been bullied before. Kids should be able to grow up and stick up for their friends without being bullied or getting their feelings hurt.”
Waryan knows what it’s like to be bullied. Because of her autism, she’s been victimized by other kids at school. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. It’s more common in boys than girls, though 1 in 88 children receives an autism diagnosis; ASD affects more than 2 million people around the world. It’s not uncommon to have autism diagnosed in conjunction with sensory processing disorder, a neurological disorder in which the sufferer has difficulties with taking in, processing and responding to information received by the senses.
Waryan’s mom, Lynn Stone, is hopeful that participation in the pageant will help her daughter’s socialization skills.
“I hope it will build her self-esteem,” Stone said.
Already, Waryan has proven she’s up for the rigors of competition. Though this is her first pageant, she participated in a talent contest last year, which is likely how she was referred to the pageant earlier this year.
“She kept hearing about [the talent competition] on the radio, and she said, ‘Mom, I want to do that.’ She’s always said she wants to be a singer, an actor, a dancer, and this competition didn’t cost anything, so I said, ‘Why not?’ If she could get up in front of all those people and do it, what’s the harm?” Stone said. “She was number 225 or something, and she got in front of 225 people, and she sang, and she spoke, and she answered questions, and she was great. They wanted her to continue, but it was a great expense, so we just couldn’t do it. But we believe it might be that agency that forwarded her name for the modeling.”
And Waryan is a born performer. She participates in dance lessons at DDE, as well as voice and piano lessons outside of schools. She dreams of being a dancer, singer and actor one day, along with a loftier aspiration.
“I would like to be Miss America,” Waryan said.
For now, she’s got to tackle Miss Jr. Pre-Teen. In order to compete, Waryan needs the assistance of sponsors, which include community businesses, organizations and private individuals. To help sponsor her, call 1-877-403-6678. So far, she’s received help from the following, to whom she and Stone extend their gratitude:
DG Lawns and Flower Shop
Rick and Mick Lis
AJM Painting Co
Lyle and Jean Stone
Lia Sophia (Lynn Stone)
Joan Condlins, Liverpool School of Dance
In addition, Brianna had an extra thank-you she wanted to add: “My little snugglebunny Mom.”
Indeed, Stone as well as her extended family have put their all into helping Waryan succeed.
“She has me behind her 100 percent, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles and cousins — we’re all doing all the best we can,” Stone said. “It’s not easy in this world these days. We don’t know much about this whole process, but we’re getting our feet wet.”
And Waryan was eager to express her appreciation.
“My family has trained me really well and helped me a lot. I hope I can help them as much one day, especially my mom,” Waryan said. “I want to thank my mom for getting sponsorships and helping me do all of this so I can participate and make a good goal for myself. I’ve loved all the times we had together. I hope it’ll last forever.”
If she’s successful this weekend, Waryan will go onto the national competition in Orlando, where she stands a chance to win more than $30,000 in prizes and awards, including college scholarships. While she’s excited about the possibility of a trip to Orlando, she’s looking forward to the opportunity to spread her message about bullying.
“I was bullied on the bus a couple of times, and at lunch and on the playground,” Waryan said. “It made me feel sad and angry. Kids around the world should not be bullied, so please help by making bullying stop and help others if they’re being bullied.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.