Haley, I don’t know where to begin! You do so many things…artist, author and autism advocate. Why don’t we start by having you share what it was like growing up on the autism spectrum.
Growing up on the spectrum for me has always been a positive experience. When I was younger, I never thought something was wrong with me or that I was different. There’s a common thread that kids with autism are aware that they’re different, or their peers think they are weird. But…I thought I was the cool one and everyone else was weird! Autism has never been looked at as a bad thing growing up. I am an only child. I am very close with my family and have always felt beyond supported, loved, encouraged, you name it.
Was there something you can remember that was a turning point in your life?
I found out I was on the spectrum when I was nine years old. It was a lazy day over the summer. I was obsessed with Harry Potter at the time. That day, my mom and I had a talk about autism for the first time. She explained how like Harry, I was different, different isn’t bad, and different could be extraordinary. It was definitely a defining moment; it’s a story I’ve told and it’s really changed how a lot of people see things.
How did that affect you personally?
I know that’s why I have the confidence and positive attitude I do about autism and that I am very accepting and aware of who I am as a person. It really shaped for me that different isn’t bad and it isn’t less. Having that foundation at a young age really made a difference because I’m sure you know that it’s very easy to feel insecure or confused or self-doubt during adolescence, and I’ve always been confident in my identities and that being on the spectrum isn’t anything to be ashamed of!
What came first, your artwork, writing or advocacy?
A very interesting combination of the three. I began drawing, creating – probably as early as I could hold a pencil. I like to say there are kids who discover the crayon box at a young age, and some of those kids are the ones who never leave it behind as they grow up. I was one of those kids. I have always loved creating. I’ve been doing it as long as I could remember.
Writing…I’ve always loved to write. I feel like I speak two languages: writing and talking. I have a writing voice and a talking voice. I love how in writing, I have the ability to tell the stories I want, how I want them. I’ve written for a lot of different publications and purposes – for professionals, student newspapers, online publications, for school, and for me. It is a great outlet to express myself and I love getting to share my thoughts, advice, and opinions. I think advocacy parlays into writing and they go hand in hand, but I do give talks too, and I love to speak and put my voice to my writing and message.
How would you describe your art?
I see my art as bright. I see my art as happy. I have described it for the most part as pop art meets anime, since it is a blend of the two styles. I love color, I love things that are bold and pop out, but I also love being able to make somebody feel something deeper. So I describe my artwork as that: happy and pop art meets anime, but it is also very “me”. I also love that I get to use my art to make a difference and make people smile.
What inspires you?
Everything. I can look around and see something differently, or I can hear or think of a phrase, or I can see something and get ideas. It is really random, but sometimes, I don’t even know where the good ideas come from and they just happen.
Tell us about your books—what are they about and why did you decide to write them?
My first book is Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About! I decided to write “Middle School” after speaking at the Autism Society of America conference in 2008. I was on a panel. I was the only girl and at thirteen, I was easily the youngest one. A lot of people asked me questions, and I knew I had a lot to say. Middle school was a topic most of my questions were on, there wasn’t anything out there, and I just finished the eighth grade. I felt like I could make a difference, and as someone who just went through it, it would be the best thing out there. I was also the middle school expert, having been to three middle schools in three years.
My second book is A Freshman Survival Guide for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. When I was going to college as a student on the autism spectrum, I was so surprised at how little there was out there. Everything was written by parents, and the statistics weren’t very good about making it. I went to a big school against the advice I was given, and I know I made the best decision for me. I know more and more students on the spectrum are going to go to college, and there needs to be something out there – for them, by one of them. It is different to get advice or know it is possible from a parent or a professional than it is from someone your age who went through it.
Pick 3 of your favorite articles you’ve written, give us the link and tell us why they are your favorites?
I wrote this as an op-ed in college for our student newspaper. In college, I started becoming more aware of all of the different aspects of diversity, and how being on the autism spectrum and having a disability is really a part of that. I find it shocking how few people realized that, and it was awesome being able to give disability a voice on campus.
More of a perspective piece on what it is like to be on the spectrum. I felt that people needed to know, since they sweep “differences” into an umbrella category, and they need to know that the goals are acceptance and how important it is to treat everyone the same.
And of course, The Huffington Post. This article was a dream come true for me. I was told every step of the way: “no.” And I didn’t want to take no for an answer and here I am and I wanted to be able to convey that to an audience, and I can’t wait to keep doing my best to beat the odds because I am not a statistic.
Share some feedback you’ve received from your readers—what impact has your writing had on them?
The most common feedback is I’ve gotten is usually from another person on the spectrum thanking me that they are not alone. I know how hard it must be to feel alone in this, and knowing you’re not the only person with autism out there and that there is someone who is going through something similar is a meaningful, impactful, comforting thing. I think what I have to say and what I’ve overcome has given a lot of people hope and I am so grateful to be able to do that for others.
What is your philosophy about advocacy?
Make a difference and make the general public more than just aware. Everyone is aware of autism in a cocktail party type setting. It’s in the news. The goal isn’t awareness anymore – with the new numbers, with the media spin on things, everybody is more than aware. The goal is acceptance. That’s’ why I advocate and share the issues that affect me and affect many others – to get closer to acceptance.
What’s the message you want to give to others on the spectrum?
That you are not alone and yes, I know it is hard, but there is also a lot of very good things and accept and celebrate the gifts.
What’s the message you want to give to the general public?
Autism isn’t all doom and gloom and is not something to be feared. We are people just like you. We are people who laugh, cry, empathize, feel happy, feel sad, and long to connect with others. We are not the robots; we are not the monsters in the media. Like you, all of us fall on the human spectrum.
What are you working on today?
As I answer your questions? My reading for my Constitutional Law class. Ha ha. I’m a first-year law student at the University of Miami. I love it, but it is a lot of work – so I am always working on stuff for law school! Personally though, I am always working on writing, coming up with ideas, thinking about what is next. I have a lot I would like to do.
What is your dream for your future? What about for all autistic individuals?
I want to keep making a difference. I would like to be able to help our community in the legal system either through civil law or family law. For all of us autistic individuals, my dream is to live in a world where neurodiversity and autism are simply part of the diversity equation and human experience. I want to see the day where it is not a big deal, where we are no less human. When it is like being from another country, or having a different cultural background.
Thank you Haley, for being such a positive role model and for just being you!
- Haley’s website
- Haley Moss ART on Facebook
- Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About on Amazon
- A Freshman Survival Guide for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders on Amazon
Artwork by Haley Moss