Interview by Jenny Bristol
Illustration by Rebecca Burgess
Haley Moss was diagnosed as autistic when she was a small child, but she grew up with the love and support of her family who focused on her strengths and treated any difference as an asset. She grew up knowing that she could do anything she set her mind to. She kept that thought with her as she wrote books, established her own style of art, and went to college, earning two undergraduate degrees and graduating from law school in 2018, passing the bar exam soon thereafter. Her cheerful art and helpful books have provided guidance to autistic kids, teens, and young adults. After practicing law for a time, she now has her own business as a public speaker and consultant. She was featured on The Today Show profiling her and her journey.
What does a typical work/regular day look like for you (or, if there isn’t a typical day, describe one that is representative of your work/regular life)?
So… my days are very varied right now, especially with traveling for speaking engagements and the like!
A travel day looks similar in most instances: wake up unusually early (sometimes about 4AM), get dressed, have a light snack, make sure everything is packed and my apartment is okay to be without me for a few days, go to the airport, feel stressed about security screening, decompress a bit with noise-cancelling headphones, sleep on the plane if possible, get hyped up to present and meet people, check into hotels, present (if it’s same day, if not, it’ll be the next morning more than likely).
On days I’m home, I try to follow a schedule of sorts of when I wake up and eat. I also try to set aside a goal for the day—sometimes it’s writing an article or working on what hopefully will be my next book, or a contract, or making phone calls or responding to certain inquiries and things. I wear a lot of different hats each day, so no two days are the same, which is cool!
What hobbies or interests do you have outside of your work?
Outside of the law and autism advocacy, things I enjoy doing are drawing and painting, playing video games, reading books, taking cycling and Pilates classes, and finally catching up on my Netflix queue.
How does being autistic help or hinder your work or hobbies?
I can hyper-focus on things that interest me and dedicate my time and energy into doing what I love really, really well.
Conversely, I can hyper-focus on things that interest me and then executive functioning becomes a bit of a mountain to climb for other things, or I don’t know exactly what to prioritize first. I make a lot of lists and use a lot of calendars.
What kinds of changes or accommodations do you make in your life to allow you to be successful?
Each day is different. Since I am currently in my own business, I am the one in charge, so self-accommodation is a blessing. If I’m having a difficult executive functioning day, I’m not too hard on myself and I make lists before going back to tasks. Sometimes I respond to inquiries and emails well after business hours because I can focus without repeated responses and other tasks to keep track of. Calendars save my life. As do breaks, walks, and no fluorescent lighting (definitely a perk of being outside of an office setting for the time being).
My parents help me a lot with things like keeping my living space clean or staying organized. I am blessed to realize independence doesn’t mean “do it all yourself,” but have support and recognizing interdependence is okay, and sometimes you need help to have the freedom to live life on your terms, too.
Have you experienced discrimination or bullying because of your autism or autistic traits?
I’ve experienced a lot of what I call “benevolent ableism”—a type of discrimination that’s disguised as being kind and caring and is subtle exclusion. It’s not being invited to events because people are thoughtfully (though misguidedly) saying, “You might not be able to handle the sensory input.” I’m fully capable of making those decisions myself and denying me access is a form of discrimination and bullying.
I’ve also had people talk down to me as if I can’t understand things. I am the same person I was before we talked about autism or you knew I was autistic. I am very capable of understanding things and will let you know if I don’t.
I’ve also had doubt of the merits of how I’ve gotten to where I am in life. I took the same bar exam, graduated college, took the same classes in high school, etc., as my nondisabled peers. I just had to work harder and through ableism as well as my own challenges at the same time to get through the same rites of passage or milestones.
What advice would you give parents of autistic kids about the best ways to support their kids in becoming their best selves? What advice from the “experts” do you think parents should ignore?
Listen to your kids! We all have talents and things we are passionate about. Nurture and encourage those special interests, talents, and passions. You never know what they will bring, and they are also essential to our happiness and personhood.
“Also, listen to autistic adults—we are the everyday experts. We have that lived experience. Befriend us too. It sends a strong message to your children that autistic adults exist, can have meaningful lives and friendships, and that your kids aren’t the only ones who are autistic. Not feeling alone is super important for everyone.”
So, I guess as far as advice to ignore—trust yourself! You are your child’s biggest advocate, especially when they are young or have higher support needs (in time, they can become their own best and biggest advocate). You know your kid really, really well. You know what works best for your family.
What was one piece of advice you received that helped you be comfortable with who you are?
Beginning with when I was 9 and first learned I was autistic, my mom always said, “Different isn’t bad. It’s just different. And different can be extraordinary.” It really helped me feel confident and comfortable in my very wonderfully autistic self in such a way that I wouldn’t trade being autistic.
What drove you to go into law? What kinds of law do you plan to practice?
Originally, I went to college thinking I would go to medical school and become a psychiatrist. I thought nothing would be cooler than understanding the mind and being able to help other autistic people in that respect. However, the sciences didn’t jive with me or make me happy.
So, when I thought about what makes me happy or what I wanted to do when I grew up, I focused on my strengths. I love to write, and love to talk, and also want to help people. Lawyers are strong writers and advocates with the potential to make a difference in peoples’ lives every single day.
In my previous job, I practiced in healthcare and international law. I mostly worked on anti-terrorism litigation. It was really cool stuff.
Currently, I just started my own business! I am a public speaker and also a consultant on disability inclusion and neurodiversity in the workplace for other businesses and law firms. It’s a change for sure and I am having fun with it!
If/when I do go back to the law, I’d like to learn and practice in employment law.
What kind of response have you received for the books you’ve written?
The best is when young people are able to relate to experiences I have or felt I was able to help them. I am so grateful to have had those reactions over the years.
What inspires you in your art?
Everything, really. Especially things with bright colors or that I notice bring others a lot of joy.
What are the best ways for people to connect with you?
- Twitter: @haleymossart
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/haleymossart
- Instagram: @haleymossart
- Email: [email protected]
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