“I want to see a world where people with disabilities achieving things is a norm rather than an exception. It isn’t a surprise when you see a person with autism practicing law or doing something amazing in the world.”
By Ron Sandison
This last June I met Haley Moss at the Milestone Autism Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Haley was the keynote speaker and I presented two breakout sessions on Fierce, Love & Art: Helping Children with Autism Discover New Interests & Fun Activities.
Haley shared her story with me.
As an infant Haley cried continuously and she didn’t speak until age three. In preschool Haley could arrange complex jigsaw puzzles but lacked the social skills to interact with her classmates. When Haley was diagnosed with autism, specialists warned her parents that she “would be lucky if she has one friend, graduates from high school, and receives a driver’s license.” Her parents were told not to expect too much from her.
After her diagnosis some parents wouldn’t let their kids play with Haley because they thought her condition was contagious.
At age nine Haley was obsessed with Harry Potter. She learned about her diagnosis when her mom, Sherry, told her, “Much like Harry Potter you are different from your peers and have magical powers. Beside an extraordinary memory, autism has given you strengths with computers skills, artistic talents, and a gift for writing. Different is not a bad thing. It is just different. And different can be extraordinary.”
At thirteen, Haley spoke on a panel at the Autism Society of America Conference. After her presentation she was encouraged and inspired to write a book to help middle-school students on the autism spectrum. Over the next two years, she wrote a 160-page book, Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About. Autism Asperger Publishing Company published her book in 2010.
“I’m not the best with social stuff and in middle school I wasn’t into talking about boys and makeup and parties like the other girls my age were. I also lacked social common sense but I learned from my mistakes,” Haley shares.
Sherry helped Haley learn through floor-time play and other activities while encouraging Haley’s interests. She worked tirelessly with Haley trying different things until she found strategies that worked. Sherry used a structured schedule of activities to help Haley develop her social skills. Haley says, “My playtime with peers was very organized. When other kids came over for playdates, my mom had a set time for snacks, games and activities, and for the kids to return home. I felt more relaxed making friends by having a routine schedule I could follow and having them over at my house. I knew what to expect.”
Haley experienced difficulty in social interaction but she excelled at art. Haley had always enjoyed creating artwork but began to receive recognition for it when she was thirteen. She explains, “Drawing helped calm me down and escape from the social drama of school as well as stress.” Haley paints anime-style characters with acrylic on canvas. Her artwork has been compared to world renowned Brazilian Neo-pop artist, Romero Britto. Haley has been featured in galleries throughout South Florida. Some of her original paintings sold for thousands at auction to benefit the University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.
Haley shares about her experience in school, “I never really thought I was “different” or a “weird kid.” I thought I was cool and everyone else was different. I always had really high self-esteem thanks to my parents. I always believed I was the cool kid and everyone else was the weird kid at school, so quite the opposite experience of many of my autistic peers. I guess I knew sometimes my interests didn’t align with girls my age—I got along better with the boys. And I really loved art and had an extraordinary memory.”
Haley is only twenty-four years old and has already graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Criminology and graduated from law student at the University of Miami. She is the first practicing lawyer with autism in the state of Florida working as an associate with Zumpano Patricios law firm.
Haley encourages, “I want to see a world where people with disabilities achieving things is a norm rather than an exception. It isn’t a surprise when you see a person with autism practicing law or doing something amazing in the world.”
Below is a video of Haley Moss and her parents made for The Today Show. “From the minute my daughter was diagnosed society and friends and family at times closed the door,” Shelly Moss.
Read more about Haley on her website haleymoss.net
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 firstname.lastname@example.org