Woman with autism admitted to Florida Bar, becoming "first openly-autistic lawyer," family says

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

Haley Moss was just 3 years old when she was diagnosed with autism. As a toddler, Moss could do 100-piece jigsaw puzzles and read, but she did not speak. After realizing she was gifted but non-verbal, Moss' parents took her to the doctor, where they found out she was on the autism spectrum.

By the age of 4, the girl from South Florida began speaking and quickly went from special education classes to what mainstream classrooms. She always had her sights set on proving her ability was far greater than her disability.

"I first shared my story at a conference when I was 13 years old," Moss, now 21, told CBS News. "I've always enjoyed getting to connect and share."

She wrote her first book, "Middle School – The Stuff Nobody Tells You About: A Teenage Girl with ASD Shares Her Experiences," when she was just 15 years old. Over the past decade, she wrote another book and contributed to a book of essays. Moss has also held several speaking engagements and has created countless pieces of art.

She said advocating for others with autism has always been important to her. "I've always been raised to give back and help others in need and help the community," she said. "It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an even bigger village to raise a child with a disability … I realized by sharing my story, I could be a part of someone else's village."

#MotivationMonday from yours truly 👊

Posted by Haley Moss on Monday, February 18, 2019

When she received her bachelor's degree from the University of Florida, Moss decided to continue her education – and advocacy – and she enrolled at University of Miami School of Law.

"I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to make a difference for other people," she said. "Lawyers help their community. What better way [to make a difference] than to become a lawyer."

In May 2018, Moss graduated from University of Miami School of Law and had the honor of speaking at the commencement ceremony. She had a job offer lined up before graduating, contingent on her passing the Bar exam. She did – and in January, she was admitted to the Florida Bar. She and her family believe she's the first openly autistic person to do so.

Moss is now practicing law with a focus on health care and international matters. She plans to continue writing and creating art while being a lawyer, and her goal is to inspire others with her success.

Moss says if she makes a difference in just one person's life, her advocacy is worth it. "Whether it's somebody on the spectrum that says 'Thank you for sharing your story,' or it's a parent of a newly-diagnosed child that tells me, 'Wow, you gave me so much hope for my kid. I can't wait to see what my kid's going to be able to do when they get older.' Yes, it's definitely an impact."

Inspiring stories of people on the autism spectrum 19 photos

First published on February 18, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Inspiring stories of people on the autism spectrum

Woman with autism becomes lawyer

As a child Haley Moss was non-verbal – in 2018 she spoke at her law school graduation

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