- My parents shared my autism diagnosis when I was 9 years old.
- I was obsessed with “Harry Potter,” and they used it to explain how I was different from other kids.
- My parents gave me the confidence I needed at a critical age, which I’ve carried throughout my life.
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Every time I was excluded from another kid’s party or not invited to playdates, my parents made me feel like everybody was missing out on how cool I was. Not invited to somebody’s 7th birthday party? No problem, we were going to the toy store and getting ice cream instead. Excluded on the playground? We’d play games together at home.
I was diagnosed with autism when I was a toddler. I was sensitive and shy. I vaguely remember visits to speech and occupational therapy and a parade of adults playing with toys and board games to teach me social and conversational skills. I was an only child, so didn’t think anything of it – I was used to having adults around.
I was confident, believing that others needed time to catch up to figure out just how interesting and fun I was.
My mom was the queen of diversion, turning every social shortcoming of mine into an opportunity to learn and grow, and I never once thought I was the “weird kid.” “Harry Potter” helped.
The way my parents told me about my autism was empowering
When I was 9 years old, I was given the keys to the kingdom of self-discovery. Like many 9-year-olds in the early 2000s, I was obsessed with the “Harry Potter” series. (This was before J. K. Rowling’s comments about trans people and people with autism.)
“You have magical powers like Harry Potter,” my mom said to me one day.
Harry held a special place in my heart. We shared a prophetic July 31 birthday, he was true to himself, and he lived in a world beyond my imagination. He was cool in a world full of uncool people.
My mom began to tell me about autism and what the fairly common developmental disability, characterized by differences in communication, social skills, sensory processing, and repetitive behaviors, was all about.
“Different is neither better nor worse,” she said. “It’s just different. And different can be extraordinary.”
My mom likened it to Harry Potter – he was different too. He didn’t quite fit in with the muggles back home, where he was often ridiculed, but he also didn’t fit in with the wizards and witches at Hogwarts, where he was famously The Boy Who Lived with the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead that was a constant reminder of his differences.
This revelatory idea became a building block of who I was. My mom and I focused on my strengths: my memory, my sensitivity, my creativity.
We already knew I had a hard time making friends, so we didn’t overemphasize my weaknesses. But knowing I had autism – and how my parents chose to bring up the subject – made me feel cool.
I share my story to empower people who are neurodiverse
What strikes me about that fateful day is just how forward-thinking it was. At the time, my parents were unfamiliar with the concept of neurodiversity, the idea that all types of brains are to be accepted and respected. You don’t need to know the right language of social justice, inclusion, and belonging, to be a great ally.
My parents are the best allies I could ever have. They instilled such confidence in me. As an adult, I became a stronger advocate for myself and others because I had never wished I was neurotypical or somebody else.
Loving yourself as a person with a disability in a world rife with ableism is a magical power in itself.
Haley Moss is an attorney, contemporary American pop art artist, author, and advocate for people with disabilities.