When doctors diagnosed Haley Moss with autism at 3 years old, they told her parents she would likely never get a driver’s license, graduate from high school or work a minimum wage job. Now 24, Moss has published several books, graduated from the University of Miami School of Law and become the first openly autistic person to practice law in Florida.
“It is a huge honor to be a member of the Florida Bar, and the first who is open about her autism diagnosis,” Moss tells MAKERS. “I am excited to hopefully break down barriers and to begin a broader conversation about autism.”
After displaying symptoms such as being nonverbal, crying a lot and being shy as a toddler, Moss was eventually diagnosed with high functioning autism. Doctors initially had low expectations of what Moss could achieve in her life. Despite that, her parents encouraged Moss to pursue her passion for writing and speaking.
“My parents worked tirelessly with me and believed in me since day one,” the 24-year-old attorney says. “They never set limits on what I could do and always encouraged me to explore my interests, give back to others, be kind and do the best I could. I am also motivated to make a difference and show that anything is possible, especially when others say it is impossible.”
So that’s exactly what Moss did — she became an outspoken activist for the autism community, published her first book at age 15 and even spoke at her law school graduation.
After being sworn into the Florida Bar in January, Moss is now a practicing attorney at Zumpano Patricios, one of the top law firms in Miami. The firm’s managing shareholder, Joseph Zumpano, the father of a child with autism, immediately knew Moss was “obviously brilliant” when they first met. He later offered her a job at the firm before she passed the bar exam.
“As a core value, we wanted to be the first firm to bring in an openly autistic lawyer and make the point that if you align people to their strengths [and] then given the chance, they excel,” Zumpano told the South Florida Sun-Sentinal. “Haley has broken through this glass ceiling, and the firm is proud to be the hammer that shatters it — there’s hope for everybody.”
Having found the “the perfect marriage of [her] passions” in law, Moss hopes her story will show other people with autism that anything is possible.
“A disability generally is not all-encompassing — it is just part of who someone is, not everything they are,” Moss told the Sun-Sentinal. “Everyone is unique, everyone has strengths and weaknesses and everyone has talent.”
Despite starting a new job, Moss continues to advocate for children on the autism spectrum in the hopes of “changing the narrative and challenging preexisting conceptions and perceptions of autism.” She also volunteers with the Unicorn Children’s Foundation, an organization that hopes to inspire and empower individuals with “neurodiversity,” a term used by autism advocates to describe the developmental difference in children and adults.
People with autism aren’t less, says Moss, they’re different. “My advice for people with disabilities and people with autism that are looking for jobs or anything is don’t place limits on yourself,” says Moss. “Keep being yourself and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You are so talented, so unique, and this world needs you and your gifts.”
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