MIAMI (Gray News) - Twenty-one years after she was diagnosed with autism, 24-year-old Haley Moss, who was recently sworn into the Florida Bar, says she doesn’t let others’ expectations define her, instead embracing her strengths and differences.
Moss is a published author, a law school graduate and a practicing lawyer, but when she was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, doctors didn’t think she would accomplish any of those things.
She says the doctors told her parents she would likely never graduate from high school, get a driver’s license or even make a friend.
But Moss was determined to defy the doctors’ low expectations. She credits her parents for instilling in her a positive association with her diagnosis through the mantra “don’t deny the diagnosis, embrace it,” according to the Daily Business Review.
Moss says people with autism may be different to those who are not on the spectrum, but they are not lesser. She says it’s simply about finding out what works and doesn’t work for an individual.
The 24-year-old credits her self-reflection and great memory for facilitating her studies at the University of Miami School of Law.
“You know what’s hard and what’s easy,” Moss told the Daily Business Review. “I’ve always been more aware of my surroundings.”
Moss was admitted to the Florida Bar in January and is now a practicing attorney at the law firm Zumpano Patricios, which is based in Coral Gables.
The firm’s co-founder and managing shareholder, Joseph Zumpano, offered Moss a job before she passed the bar exam, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.
“When I was introduced to Haley by a former lawyer at our firm, I immediately picked up on the fact that she was obviously brilliant - brilliant and a good person,” Zumpano said.
Zumpano also is the father of a 16-year-old with autism, which made his decision to hire Moss personal as well as practical.
“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, then given the chance, they excel,” Zumpano said.
Zumpano told the Daily Business Review he knows of only three or four other attorneys with autism, most of whom work in the public sector.
Moss, who is an advocate for individuals with special needs, encourages employers to look beyond a potential employee’s disability.
"You need to look at what people can do as opposed to what they might not be able to do,” Moss told the Sun-Sentinel. “A disability generally is not all-encompassing; it is just part of who someone is, not everything they are. Everyone is unique, everyone has strengths and weaknesses and everyone has talent.”
Moss says her advice extends beyond employment to anyone with autism or to parents of children who have been diagnosed, and her parents agree.
"Just never give up,” they told the Daily Business Review. “Don’t put up limits and boundaries on your child. Different can be extraordinary.”