Interview with Haley Moss, Author and Teenager with High Functioning Autism

When I see young kids with Autism or Asperger’s advocating for themselves, I get a sudden rush of excitement, followed quickly by an intense feeling of pride.

Although my children are not writing books, or getting interviewed by CNN, I do envision them some day being strong enough to tell their story, to share their experiences and to make a difference for the next generation of kids.

So, when I saw the new book, Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About, by 16 year old Haley Moss, I wanted to hear her story.

Turns out this young woman is nothing short of amazing.

She has not only become an author while still in high school, but is an incredible artist (she created all of the artwork for the book, including the cover). She is creative, has a great memory, can write poetry and says that she looks only at the positives of her Autism. Her mother told her about Autism by likening her ‘special talents’ to those of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. And given Haley’s success, I’d say that the metaphor of her skills being ‘magical’ is fitting.

Haley comes across as a typical teenager, and even sounded like one during her CNN interview last April, when asked how her friends were taking her success, she responded with modest teenage charm, “Everyone is keeping it on the down low.”

Thankfully, she is here today to talk about her book which is aimed at explaining middle school to kids with autism, and their parents; from how to get through the classes, making friends, decoding texting acronyms and maybe most importantly (to me!), she even explains new slang, like “Down Low.”

So, if you have a child in middle school, entering middle school, or maybe you are like me and are already anticipating middle school with a certain sense of dread regardless of how far away it is; this is for you! Oh, and did I mention she is giving away a copy of her book? Oh, yes she is!

IMHO, U R in for a treat, and IIRC, many of U have kids the same age as Haley, so don’t say you’ll BRB, stay, read the interview and LOL with us! (Translation at the bottom of the page!)

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Welcome to HLW3B Haley – I am so excited to have you here! Can you start by telling us about you and your family? (Specifically, my son would like to ask, do you have a dog?)

I am a sixteen-year-old girl with High Functioning Autism who lives in sunny South Florida. I go to a typical private high school and I am going to be a junior. I love to draw, read and write. I also have two standard poodles – you know, the big fluffy ones. One of them is white and his name is Thomas. He is 11 years old. My other one is black and his name is Zak. He is 3 years old and is known around the neighborhood as the “reindeer” because he thinks he could fly.

Your book is great – a big CONGRATULATIONS on a job well done! The formatting is engaging with color, small illustrations and great added tips from other girls on the spectrum, plus the tips are both practical and reassuring. I am sure you weren’t aware of all of those things starting middle school, so when you think back, how did you feel then? Were you nervous? Excited?

I actually wasn’t nervous in middle school (sixth grade) because I was still at the same small school I had been at since the first grade. However, my transition to a larger school in seventh grade was a bit more nerve-racking. I had to learn everything. I went from 18 kids in my class to having 110. I also went from going between five classrooms in one building to navigating through a miniature college campus. Socially, I didn’t know a soul, and I didn’t know where to begin looking for friends. I was however, excited, because the school let you bring your computer everyday because lessons were online. I was really big on technology at school so I was excited.

I like that your book covers everything – from the nuts and bolts of the schools physical layout to the intricacies of the word “boyfriend”. Which part was the hardest to write? Were you embarrassed or confused about any of it even at the time of writing it?

By the time I began writing the book, I was at the end of eighth grade. I was already a “survivor” and thought ‘Man, I have to help my fellow autism buddies. I hope they don’t have to go to three different schools and have the same friendship troubles that I had." I think the hardest thing to write was about friendship. Friendships were hard for me, and to relive the disappointment and loneliness I felt then was hard to document. It just hurt all over again. However, I do want to reiterate that high school does get better as people become more accepting of each other.

The chapter on “New Slang” is hysterical to me. I actually just recommended your book to a girlfriend of mine who has a neurotypical daughter in middle school – laughingly telling her she could learn what her daughter was saying with your slang-guide. For those of us that are not as cool as we once were, translate some of the slang words for us – a few of the new ones for me are ‘Rents, Emo, and Glomp.

I included the slang section mainly to teach to my mom. She was just as confused as I was when the kids would come over and start saying some of these things. Now for a few quick definitions in context! How fun is that? ‘Rents is just “parents” but with kids trying to be cool by shortening it it to ‘rents, or if you’re me, ‘rentals. Emo was originally supposed to be short for ‘emotional’, but instead it turned into a social label and style of dress. Emo kids wear heavy black eyeliner, black clothing, and look kind of unkempt. It’s more like a mix of grunge and gothic. Glomps are tackle-hugs and someone usually ends up on the ground, but it is a loving gesture. For more on slang words, please check out the book! : )

I appreciated the fact that you talk about difficult topics in your book like puberty, sexuality and dating. Those can be difficult topics for any teenager – but the social confusion for those on the spectrum can be even worse. What is your advice for girls that are not already ‘boy crazy’ when most middle school girls are? How do girls on the spectrum stay ‘cool’ when they aren’t interested in talking nonstop about boys?

The way I survived the ‘boy crazy’ girls was to just listen to them and nod when it seemed like a good time to nod. When the girls got tired of ranting about their crushes, boyfriends, and hot guys in magazines, they move onto a different topic, or then it is your turn to change the subject to something you want to talk about (preferably something you both in common). The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer is always a great thing to talk about. It’s the most popular thing out there and every girl knows something about it. Even if you aren’t interested in vampire romances, read the first book anyway and see the movies. Or just see the movies so you can fit in with all of your peers. I’m not saying you have to become obsessed, or even like it. Just know the story and the characters so you could make small talk about the series with the other girls.

I remember clearly how hard the social structure amongst girls is (Even though that was in the WAY distant past). Tell us your suggestions for how to determine what group of girls is the right social group for you? How do you know who to trust when many girls can be very into gossip at that age?

Disclaimer: this is NOT my area of expertise. My advice could be wrong, untrustworthy, or just not work for you. I tend to be a bad judge of character and usually I am not the one to initiate friendships. I would just wait to see who wanted to be friends with me and would build my friendships from that. Usually these people are not for me. I tend to be a loner, mainly by choice. I’m not the type of person who will walk up to a new kid and be like “Hi there! Are you new here?” and not because I don’t want to know the new kid. Gossip is everywhere. It’s easier to just listen and observe, and keep your distance. If there are personal things you want to talk about, trust a family member or a school counselor. Never trust your peers with anything that you wouldn’t want other people to know (examples: a crush, a family crisis, or even an autism diagnosis).

There is too much more in your book for me to ask you about – so I will conclude with this: Your mother was told that she shouldn’t expect much of you when you were diagnosed with Autism as a child. She was told that you would be lucky to ‘work fast food’. Your mother, like the thousands of other mothers of children with autism in this country, didn’t accept that prognosis. You have beaten the odds, and that is what every parent wants for their child. What have your parents done to help you along your path? Give my readers one tip that will help them as they navigate this path with their own child.

One tip I would like to share is to prepare your kids in advance for situations. My mom always frontloaded things and explained them to me before they happened so I would be aware of how to handle them when they did happen. That has made all the difference. It helped me blend in and gave me confidence. Sure, there are situations that pop up that you can’t prepare for. I’ve been through many of those, too. But as they happened, we would use them as learning experiences and talk about them throughout and after it happened. Communication with a trusted family member is key to succeeding with autism.

Thank you Haley for taking the time out of your summer break to talk with me. I am sure at your age the last thing you need is another mother, but know that on behalf of all the ‘autism moms’ out there, I am very proud of you and the work you are doing to prove that kids with autism are capable of reaching their dreams and are definitely capable of advocating for themselves!

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Translation from above, per the de-coder in Haley’s book: In my humble opinion, you are in for a treat, and if I recall correctly, many of you have kids the same age as Haley, so don’t say you’ll be right back, stay, read the interview and laugh out loud with us!

Now it is time to enter.

But before I start, if you are one of those people who think “I don’t need that book yet, so I won’t enter”, enter anyway – you can always donate the book to a local support group or library – many people can't access these resources, so getting them into the hands of people who will 'check them out' to many is a fantastic thing!  No teenage girl with autism should have to start school without a little guidance.

Here is how you can win:


1. You will need to follow this blog publicly through Google located on the top of the right column or via RSS/email (please indicate in your comment which one you use) and

2. Post a comment for Tracy -- tell us which book you want and why -- she will be reading and responding, so feel free to ask other questions too!

3. Leave your email address so I can contact you.

OK, once you have joined and commented, you are officially entered.

The contest will run from Tuesday 7/06/10 to Monday 7/12/10 and will end at 7pm PST. The winner will be selected by random drawing, and emailed (don't forget to leave your email address!!). If you do not respond, a new winner will be drawn.

Please take the time to tweet and share this on Facebook to help spread the word, awareness and help to families who need it.

Good luck!
H

11 comments:

Shrugged said...

I grew up with undiagnosed aspergers. I remember middle school as ranging from worrisome and lonely on the best days to terrifying and horrible on the worst. I would like to read the book about middle school so I can help my daughter in a few years' time. Hopefully her path will be easier than mine!

I follow your blog using google reader.

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring post. I really want Haley Moss' book about MIddle School.
email:savvymomx2@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

I forgot to ask a question: How would Haley advise kids to go abotu disclosing a dx to their peers?
savvymomx2

Just another Mom said...

Fantastic interview! I can't wait to read her book. It is never about our limitations, but rather what we want to do then figuring out a way to make it happen!

In Real Life said...

Wow! This is an amazing post. I am excited to read Haley's book. My daughter, who has Asperger's is going into grade 6. I follow through google friend connect. My email: kelly.sheehy1@gmail.com

Martianne said...

It;s been a crazy week for us and I haven;t kept up with your blog as I usually do, but I still love it and wanted to pass a little Sunshine Award your way! :) http://traininghappyhearts.blogspot.com/2010/07/sunshine-award.html

Jen said...

My older son is about to enter our local middle school. Yikes. He has Aspberger's . I'm hoping and praying that he makes it through relatively unscathed (although I'm not really hopeful this could actually happen, based on my MS experiences.) Need all the help I can get!

jazzygal said...

Sounds like a book I should read as my boy going to our equivalent of your middles school (I think!) in 2 years time! x jazzy

Patty O. said...

Amazing interview! Thank you, Haley, for writing the book and for being willing to be interviewed. I so appreciate people who are willing to devote time and energy to make life easier for my son and other kids like him. And thanks, Hartley, for always being so informative in your blog!

Marla Roth-Fisch said...

Haley is a very talented and bright young lady with so much to offer! Thanks Hartley for this enlightening interview.

~Marla

Victoria said...

I am a mom of a typical teenage daughter. We both read Haley's book and we thought it was amazing. What marvelous insight this teenage young lady has to offer such helpful ideas that are perfect for middle schoolers whether they have Autism or are typical.My daughter recognized many issues in Haley's book that she too had to deal with in the most challenging middle school years.Thank you Haley Moss for all that you give of yourself to help others. Every middle school child needs to read this book.