Law grad becomes first woman with autism to compete for Miss Virginia

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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) — Hallie Hovey-Murray is a self advocate with autism who competed in the Miss Virginia pageant on Saturday, June 21, against 25 women across the Commonwealth.

“It’s just this incredible feeling of knowing that your voice is being seen and you’re making an impact," said Hovey-Murray. “It’s an organization of really strong women who empower one another, and it’s really a sisterhood.”

Hallie has many talents – she’s a beauty queen and a ventriloquist – but what makes this contestant stand out from the rest is the hardship she overcame.

“I was diagnosed as being in the autism spectrum at the age of 11,” said Hovey- Murray.

Throughout Hallie’s childhood, she struggled to communicate, making it difficult for her to socialize.

“It was terrifying. It was honestly one of the scariest moments in my life because I was afraid to talk about it with people,” said Hovey- Murray.

Before her diagnosis, she was asked to leave two different schools that didn't understand why she had such a difficult time socializing.

"I so struggled with communication as a child and I so struggled with stress, but those are two things that I've really worked on."

Fast forward years later, through a decade of doctor appointments, therapy, theater and debate, and Murray’s former weakness would become her greatest talent.

“It’s enabled me to be able to be effective as an advocate...to be able to be someone that has people look up to me and have people tell me you’re such a role model,” said Hovey- Murray.

She would shatter people’s preconceptions of what autism looks like by becoming the first woman with autism to compete for Miss Virginia.

“I’m living my dream jobs and it’s because of the skills I’ve been able to learn, and it’s something that no one ever thought possible,” said Hovey- Murray.

While she says the crown would provide a great platform, she’s going to continue her work as an advocate for the autism community.

“I’m still passionate about the same things I was going into Miss Virginia week and those are things I want to continue to promote,” said Hovey- Murray.

Hallie is also a recent law graduate from William and Mary and an advocate for spreading autism awareness through her own non-profit, The 1 in 68 Foundation.

WDBJ7's Katey Roshetko asked her, "How do you define autism?"

"As something that's different, but not something that's bad," she said. "It means you may have different challenges, but it can also be a superpower."