Top Model's Autistic Beauty
updated 12/17/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/17/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST
The fifth-place contestant says she's thrilled to have been a beacon of "Aspie pride." Growing up, "I was at the bottom of the totem pole," says Kuzmich, who's heading back to school at the Illinois Institute of Art—Chicago (where she has a serious boyfriend) and hopes to continue modeling. "I wanted to be a role model for girls who aren't the most popular and are picked on." One ex-schoolmate posted an online apology for having bullied her. He must have a crush on her now, she jokes: "So that's why you were teasing me!"
Despite some on-air strife, she says she and her fellow models "got along really well." The hardest part was staying poised: "I worked my butt off. It's really hard for it not to seem hard!"