In February, Haley Moss made national headlines as the first openly-autistic attorney to pass the Florida Bar. But the UM graduate, who now works for Zumpano Patricios in Coral Gables, is hardly a stranger to attention. Diagnosed at age three, Moss says her family was told she would likely never graduate from high school or even make friends. But Moss did more than that, writing two books, earning accolades as an artist and graduating undergrad with two degrees before entering law school. This month, Moss jumps full force into Autism Awareness Month with engagements at a Jacksonville event and Books & Books Coral Gables before the UM-NSU CARD annual Tropical Nights gala on April 27. “There are so many ways to be able to spread information and shape conversation in April and I am always excited to find new ways to do that and to work with different people and organizations to make that happen,” she says.
Moss became an advocate at the age of 13 when she realized the power of her story while speaking on a panel for the Autism Society of America Conference. “On that panel, I was the only girl, and was the youngest one,” says Moss. “What I had to say about my life experiences at that point – including the story of how I found out I was on the autism spectrum (being told I was a lot like Harry Potter with magic because we were both different than our peers) – really resonated with the audience and I realized I’d be able to give others hope and help make change.” Today, Moss serves on the Constituency Board at UM-NSU CARD in Coral Gables (which works with more than 12,000 autism families and people on the spectrum in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties) and volunteers with Boca’s Unicorn Children’s Foundation.
Though Moss gives credit to the large national organizations for the work that they do, she feels her power is better channeled on a local level. “That is where we find schools, service providers, and support,” she says. “The services and support available at home greatly influences the daily life of people on the spectrum as well as their families. On the ground is where I believe the biggest impact could be made because change can be accomplished in communities at the local level.” And Moss is no stranger to sharing her own life, she wrote two books: one about her experiences in middle school and the other about college. “I wanted to hear from and learn from another autistic student who made it through and was able to give advice, share experiences, and somehow make the transition less daunting,” she says. “ I realized I could be that resource for someone else.”
Lessons to Learn
Moss says that people have many misconceptions about people on the spectrum, but that often the world around them is more of a challenge than being autistic. “The world is not accessibly designed, is not always understanding or accommodating,” she says. “You can do your part to make the world easier for the autistic people in your life by genuinely asking questions. Accessibility could be as simple as turning down the volume on something to avoid a sensory overload.” She’s also working hard to dispel myths of what a person with autism “should” look like. “So often, the stereotypes of people on the spectrum are young boys, or adult men who work in STEM fields,” she says. “Girls and women on the spectrum exist. There are also women like me who pursued the arts, or entered fields such as law…If you’ve met one person, you only met that person. We’re all different!”