The Autism Advocate
"It's important for me to give back to my community."
Academically, Hallie never struggled in school, but socially, she did. In the third grade, she was expelled for the second time. Her parents couldn’t figure out what was happening, but a therapist finally discovered the proper diagnosis. Hallie is on the autism spectrum.
“It really brought about more clarity which was helpful,” Hallie shared. “I was finally able to get the type of therapy I needed with the proper diagnosis, and I got taken off a lot of medications I didn’t need to be on.”
Hallie competed in her first pageant to improve her confidence and have fun but decided to continue when she realized she could use it as a platform to raise awareness for autism. She competed in Miss Virginia 2018 and held two titles: Miss Southwestern Virginia and Miss Historic Hanover.
In addition to competing in pageants, Hallie is a speaker and author, runs a nonprofit and is in her third year of law school. The nonprofit is called One in 68 Foundation. The name comes from the statistic showing that one in 68 Americans falls on the autism spectrum. The foundation provides college preparatory resources for high school students on the autism spectrum. Hallie and her board are determined to teach people that those on the spectrum can have successful lives utilizing their own talents.
Hallie also wrote a book, Overcoming Expectations, about her experiences as a young woman on the autism spectrum. “It was difficult to look back at the hard parts of my childhood, but it was important to share it with families who are going through similar things.” Hallie travels across the country to share her story and advocate for those with autism. She is determined to teach people that living on the spectrum is not a limitation.
Why do you love what you do?
Running a nonprofit has been such an incredible experience, especially since I’ve been able to see and speak to so many families and students affected by autism through my work as chairwoman of the 1 in 68 Foundation. Being able to show students and families with autism all that is possible and to give them tools to pursue their dreams of higher education feels incredible.
How do you define success?
Success is defined by taking whatever position in your life you may be in and finding a way to use that to help your community as a whole. Success means staying true to yourself and your values, even when it’s hard.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated to continue working for my legal career, for the 1 in 68 Foundation and for the job of Miss Virginia each and every time I meet a child or parent who has never been told to expect the most from themselves or their child, whether it’s because of a disability or something else. I’m a firm believer that one person who offers encouragement or hope can change someone’s entire perspective about their potential.
How did you discover your passion for pageants?
The incredible opportunities not only for scholarship, but to serve others. I’ve been able to travel around 10,000 miles as a local titleholder in the Commonwealth of Virginia and it’s incredible to have been able to make a true impact at such a young age through the Miss Virginia Organization.
I read on your website that you had a lot of difficulties in school prior to your accurate diagnosis. Did things get better for you after that or did it bring you more clarity?
It really brought about more clarity which was helpful. I was finally able to get the type of therapy I needed with the proper diagnosis. I also got taken off a lot of medications I didn’t need to be on and I was able to start mainstream schooling.
Tell me more about your nonprofit.
A big part of what we do is college prep, so helping with college admissions. We have a partnership with the University of Richmond where we offer test prep for students with autism and we are looking for ways to expand our college prep program. We’ve been able to grow so much, and we have such an amazing group of people on our board of directors. I am the youngest which is definitely intimidating at times, but this is something I’m really passionate about.
When did you decide to compete in pageants?
I kind of fell into it accidentally. I competed in my first one when I was 17 for something fun to do and to build my confidence. The next competition I did when I was 20. When I was in college I overheard someone making fun of someone who "must be autistic" because they were "so awkward" and I realized I needed to share more information about autism. I started using pageants as a platform to spread the message. You have to have such a tight schedule when you compete, but it's good because it keeps me really centered and focused. It’s just about finding that balance.
What was the experience of competing at the Miss Virginia pageant like?
It was really incredible, you get to meet so many passionate and dedicated women and all of these women are there because they're passionate about their platforms and serving their communities. It’s a fun week where you get to focus on becoming your best self. It gives you the tools to be successful in job interviews and public speaking.
Do you plan to continue to compete for Miss Virginia?
I am competing for the prelims.
When did you decide you wanted to be a speaker?
I love to reach people and share my story and talk about the 1 in 68 Foundation and the work we’re doing. It’s not something I really imagined doing.
Where is the farthest you’ve traveled to speak to a group?
A conference in Los Angeles, California.
What are some of your key talking points?
I always try to send the message that kids with autism can accomplish and become helpful members of society. We live in a society that tells people with disabilities that you can’t do this or that. There are ways to help people with disabilities, but we talk about the limitations more than the possibilities, so it's really about speaking to students with disabilities about living up to their full potential.
Where did you grow up?
Where do you live now?
Who is your role model?
What is your theme song?
Fight Song by Rachel Platten.
What was your experience like writing a book?
It was hard to look back at the difficult parts of my childhood, but it was important to share it with the families who are going through similar things and give people hope.
Have you received positive feedback from it?
It’s been cool to hear from families who have been influenced to help their child achieve success no matter what.
What is your ultimate goal after completing law school?
I really want to be in a position where I can do some form of public service, because it’s important for me to give back to my community.
Have you had a moment where you realized you made an impact on one individual? Something that stands out in your memory?
One student came up to me and he said, ‘I think I’m on the autism spectrum. I feel so lonely and like I can’t get through this and my parents don’t want me to get diagnosed because they don’t want the stigma. Thank you for sharing your story and now I know that diagnosis won’t limit me.’ Just speaking to a class for half an hour gave that young man the strength to go get the diagnosis and take care of himself.
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