Posted On: May 21, 2021
On April 15, Starkloff Disability Institute welcomed acclaimed attorney, educator, author and public speaker Haley Moss to the virtual stage for the latest installment of the Access U Webinar Series.
The first openly autistic member of the Florida Bar Association, Haley is a passionate advocate and leading expert on neurodiversity. Her presentation, “Perspectives of a Neurodiverse Self-Advocate,” brought an empowering conclusion to Autism Acceptance Month 2021.
The live webinar attracted nearly 100 participants. College Outreach Coordinator Katie Fields was thrilled that so many people got to hear Haley’s message.
“It was incredibly exciting to have Haley Moss share her experiences and insight with our audience because she is such a strong self-advocate, she is so proud of her neurodiverse identity, and she has navigated so many inaccessible and attitudinal barriers to get to where she is today,” Katie remarks.
Mostly nonverbal as a toddler, Haley was diagnosed with autism at a very young age. But she excelled in school, and her communication skills developed as she grew older. Haley described how a childhood obsession with Harry Potter helped her realize that it’s okay to be different; that in a way, being different is its own kind of magic.
While Haley did well academically in high school and college, ultimately graduating from the University of Miami School of Law and passing the Bar Exam on the first try, the social aspects of life were still a challenge. She described how she used masking techniques in order to fit in, something many autistic individuals do to appear more neurotypical.
“I always looked like I had a lot of friends, but I was never close to anybody. I would always have people around me at the lunch table, but it was never my table,” Haley recalls. “I didn’t want to be bullied; I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t want people to notice I was struggling socially.”
Haley shared that despite her academic and professional accomplishments, she’s still working at more mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, driving and straightening her hair. But as Haley pointed out to the audience, there’s no set time table for mastering skills, and sometimes self-advocacy means knowing when to ask for help.
“One thing that Haley discussed that I really appreciated was the idea that we shouldn’t hold people to an arbitrary timeline for when they should accomplish certain milestones in life,” Katie explains. “So often we internalize shame when we feel like we haven’t accomplished what society expects of us by a certain age, but in truth, there is no one correct timeline that we should be following. Each of us is different — we have different strengths, challenges, experiences, opportunities and so on, so we should expect and welcome the idea that our “timelines” might be different, too.”
Haley enjoyed a brief but successful career in international law before transitioning to her current roles in writing, speaking, disability advocacy and education. Over the years, countless people have attempted to chronicle her accomplishments as a high-achiever on the autism spectrum. Usually, the result was an overly dramatic feel-good piece Haley was never comfortable with. Now she encourages people to tell their own disability stories.
“A lot of times they would want to talk to my parents, friends or professors about everything. But who is the story about, who is it for and who is the audience intended to be?” Haley asks. It was often a story that made neurotypical, nondisabled people feel inspired. It made them feel good about themselves. So I took back the mic and started telling my own story.”
Katie could tell that Haley’s message resonated with people in a meaningful way: “All in all, Haley gave a wonderful presentation and I think our audience left the webinar feeling more knowledgeable on neurodiversity and empowered as self-advocates.”