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Elon Musk is one of many successful individuals with Asperger’s

Elon Musk Asperger’s
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Roar writer Arjan Arenas on Elon Musk and other influential celebrities with Asperger’s syndrome.

This past year, it feels like Elon Musk has consistently been a headline. In January, the Tesla boss, or “techno king” as he prefers to call himself, overtook Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person and his company SpaceX have remained at the forefront of the effort towards human space exploration. Additionally, he’s also been the biggest backer (although that has fluctuated quite a bit) of the controversial cryptocurrency Dogecoin. Needless to say, Musk is a marmite figure whose endeavours have been debated intensively.

So when it was announced that he’d be hosting Saturday Night Live (SNL), not everyone was pleased. In the event of him hosting the U.S. sketch show last month, Musk used his opening monologue to reveal something very interesting about himself.

“I’m actually making history tonight”, he said, “as the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL”, prompting a round of applause from the studio audience. “Or at least the first to admit to it”, he added jokingly. Explaining a little about his experience of the condition, he tied it in with his famously erratic observations on Twitter, for which he’s faced criticism and even legal action over: “Look, I know I sometimes say or post strange things, but that’s just how my brain works.” As yet, we don’t know how long Musk has known he has Asperger’s syndrome, which may have been since relatively recently, given the increase in recognition and diagnosis of the condition on the milder end of the autistic spectrum.

Of course, every individual’s experience of being on the spectrum is unique, but some have observed that Musk displays several characteristics which are common among people with Asperger’s, such as intense interests which border on obsession, in Musk’s case, technology and space travel, as well as struggling at times to understand traditional social cues.

Musk himself touched on the latter in his SNL monologue with self-deprecating humour: “So I won’t make a lot of eye contact with the cast tonight. But don’t worry, I’m pretty good at running ‘human’ in emulation mode.” One further common trait among people with Asperger’s that Musk clearly displays is high intelligence, which – regardless of what you think of him – he’s utilized to get where he is today. Having been socially awkward as a boy and once been hospitalized by school bullies who threw him down a flight of stairs, he began learning computer programming when he was ten and made his first business venture at twelve, selling the code of a video game he’d created for $500.

Earlier this month saw Autistic Pride Day, held every year on 18 June since 2005, which aims to celebrate individuals with autism and raise greater awareness of Asperger’s and other conditions on the autistic spectrum, as well as how individuals on the spectrum can be supported in fully engaging in life. Autism Pride Day also aims to combat stigmatization and misinformation surrounding the condition, and change people’s perception of autism as a mental illness to be cured, or people on the spectrum as a monolithic group to be pitied or excluded, but rather highlighting them to be unique individuals who are equally capable and worthy of respect.

Musk is one of several people in the public eye with Asperger’s. Others include Greta Thunberg, TV presenters Chris Packham and Anne Hegerty, singers Susan Boyle, Gary Numan and David Byrne, actors Sir Anthony Hopkins and Paddy Considine, and comedian Dan Ackroyd, who was incidentally one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, and contrary to what Musk said, actually the first person with the condition to host the show, in 2003.

Additionally, several more famous figures who weren’t or have not yet been medically diagnosed have been speculated by experts to have been or be on the spectrum, such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Hollywood directors Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Having more celebrities openly discussing having Asperger’s goes a small but significant way to raising awareness of the condition and reducing stigmas and misconceptions surrounding it. And as controversial a figure as Musk is, having someone like him – a billionaire and technological innovator, no less – happily discuss being an “Aspie” feels like a step in the right direction.



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