Autistic law student could be the next Miss Virginia

Hallie Hovey-Murray could be next Miss Virginia

“What people forget is that autism is a developmental disability. It’s not a learning disability. We’re not all nerdy guys who are good at math like Sheldon on the ‘Big Bang Theory.’ We come in all shapes and sizes. I want to create a paradigm shift to view students with autism as the bright, unique, amazing individuals that they are. Kids with autism have unique challenges. These challenge should not hinder them from equal opportunities.” Hallie Hovey-Murray

This June 21 Hallie Hovey-Murray, a third-year law student, competes for Miss Virginia. Hallie talks to Art of Autism blogger Ron Sandison about overcoming many challenges along the way.

As a child Hallie experienced difficulty managing her emotions causing her to have frequent meltdowns in the classroom. She struggled in school with developing friendships and social activities. Hallie was expelled from both kindergarten and third grade. She shares, “I was socially awkward and had few friends. I acted up in class because I didn’t know how to interact with my peers. As a result, I missed most of elementary school.” 

Due to her behavior issues and meltdowns in school, Hallie received many misdiagnoses from ADHD to Oppositional Defiant Disorder. During these years the treatments Hallie received only made her feel and act worse. Hallie’s mom Jean Hovey, quit her job in health policy to home school Hallie. 

 When Hallie was eleven she was diagnosed by a therapist at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond with Asperger’s. Hallie was determined not to allow her diagnosis to define her, “What people forget is that autism is a developmental disability. It’s not a learning disability. We’re not all nerdy guys who are good at math like Sheldon on the ‘Big Bang Theory.’ We come in all shapes and sizes. I want to create a paradigm shift to view students with autism as the bright, unique, amazing individuals that they are. Kids with autism have unique challenges. These challenge should not hinder them from equal opportunities.”

Hallie’s greatest challenge in school was teachers constantly telling her, “NO.”

“I truly believe that if teachers will encourage and uplift students with autism and not discourage them, there would be many more success stories. Focus on ability and strengths. In a world where students with autism are constantly told their limitations and their differences, a teacher or friend who believes in them can make all the difference in the world.” 

The education specialists provided Hallie’s parents with little hope.

“Beginning the second half of fifth grade, I was placed in special education classes despite reading at an advanced grade level. Even after I was placed in mainstream classes in sixth grade, my parents were informed I probably would remain in high school until age 21 to learn necessary social skills. My parents heard from teachers and staff that it wasn’t likely I would attended college after graduation.”       

Hallie’s special interests include: reading stories of natural disasters, history lessons, and studying law and policy. A passion for reading and law influenced Hallie’s to attend America’s oldest law school, William & Mary.

Perseverance, loving parents and teachers, and God’s grace empowered Hallie to accomplish her dreams.

“My trials in life and school empowered me to be stronger, resilient and more compassionate. A voice of advocacy for the weak. God is teaching me, patience in His plan! I have a tendency to want to know all of my next steps, when in reality I know it’s up to God to lead me on His path.” 

 Hallie attended the Virginia Treatment Center for children (VTCC) enabling her to develop coping and social skills. “VTCC worked with me on social interaction, how to handle stressful situations and handle my emotions.”

As an 8th grade student, Hallie participated in her first speaking competition on a gymnasium floor. Standing up in front of a crowd for the first time she struggled with the “Why” question of life. Why had God created her with autism? What was her purpose? Speaking on that stage for the first time, she realized her greatest gift was to use her voice to empower others.

In middle and high school Hallie had many friends and mentors including school librarians, teachers, her middle school counselor and high school principal. These mentors plus years of theater classes taught Hallie to be social. Hallie graduated from Godwin High School in 2013 receiving a merit scholarship.

After high school, Hallie attended Southern Methodist University and graduated from SMU at age 20.

“In college I was very social and a member of a sorority. I was the president of SMU speech & debate team. I dabbled in Division 1 athletics as a woman’s rower. In short, I am not just a kid with an IEP and hovering parents anymore. I am a successful woman who has autism. Asperger’s does not hold me back. People with autism are just people. We laugh, we cry, we watch bad television, and we have hopes and dreams like everyone else.”

Hallie’s desire to promote autism acceptance and share her faith motivated her to participate in The Miss America Organization scholarship competitions. Completing in beauty pageants has refined her poise and communication skills. She has competed in pageants for several years now and has held the titles of Miss Southwestern Virginia 2017, Miss Historic Hanover 2018, and currently holds the title of Miss Commonwealth 2019. At the Miss Virginia 2018 Pageant, Hallie won the Empowered Women Scholarship and also a community service award for her work with the One in 68 Foundation and her platform; One in 59: Ending the Stigma of Autism.

As Miss Commonwealth 2019, Hallie speaks to groups across the Commonwealth about the importance of creating a more inclusive and accepting world for students on the autism spectrum and ways for all students to set goals for themselves in spite of their obstacles. During her speaking tours she traveled over 12,000 miles promoting autism acceptance. Hallie also has another amazing talent as a ventriloquist which she will use while competing for Miss Virginia. She does performances at schools with her giant white goose puppeteer Gus.     

Hallie Hovey-Murray with Gus

At 23, Hallie is finishing her final year of law school at William & Mary while competing for Miss Virginia. She has self-published two books: Overcoming Expectations (a memoir about her journey) and Sadie Goes to School (a children’s book to educate children about autism). Hallie served as president of chapter of the Children’s Advocacy Law Society and founded the 1 in 68 Foundation providing college and career readiness resources for students with autism.

Hallie encourages young adults with autism, “You have a purpose and are loved. Always pursue your dreams. If people tell you that your diagnosis makes you anything less than worthy, tune them out. Differences are what make us great. Use the negative comments people make to fuel you towards greatness.”

After passing the Bar Exam, Hallie will continue her work with children with autism and do pro bono cases related to school accommodations for students with disabilities. 

Hallie Hovey-Murray at law school

Hallie’s Bio

Hallie Hovey-Murray is a disability advocate, speaker and author. She is currently a third-year law student at William and Mary School of Law and president of the One in 68 Foundation, a Richmond based 501(c)(3) which works to help provide college preparatory resources for high-school students on the autism spectrum. Hallie has competed in pageants for several years and has held the titles of Miss Southwestern Virginia 2017, Miss Historic Hanover 2018, and currently holds the title of Miss Commonwealth 2019.

Hallie uses her platform as Miss Commonwealth to speak to groups across the Commonwealth about the importance of creating a more inclusive and accepting world for students on the autism spectrum; and about ways for all students to set goals for themselves in spite of their obstacles. Her website is https://halliehoveymurray.com    

Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

2 Comments

  • Good for her. She is exceptional. There apparently is a movement to try to get the neurotypical population view autistic persons as simply a variation on the spectrum of human development. I suppose that’s true. But I think about all the effort and work that went into her achieve her goals. What if all these things had not fallen into place. What if her mother hadn’t quit work to home school her? All the support from teachers, the therapies, etc., were an concerted effort for her success.

    My children are not as outstanding as she is. But they’ve also been remarkably successful, considering the initial prognosis. Years of speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, etc. But in the end, three college degrees. And successful careers.

  • What a wonderful story about faith, and not letting a school system that does not value difference let one down. I too was homeschooled.

    I would like it if The Art of Autism could email CBC Radio The Sunday Edition thesundayedition@cbc.ca as they recently have been airing a very ableist series about children in school with special needs.

    I am an autistic artist, and I am sharing this article on my art blog.

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