What We Talk About When We Talk About Elon Musk

By: Danielle Lane  |  May 12, 2022

By Danielle Lane, Managing Editor

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve probably heard that multibillionaire Elon Musk has recently purchased the social media platform, Twitter, for almost $45 billion. There have been thousands of “hot takes” on social media from Elon Musk himself to political pundits and random trolls on the internet trying to put in their two-cents. It seems everyone has an opinion on this monumental and historic move. Except for me. While I wish Musk would use his money to fight poverty or build the world’s biggest bounce house for me and my friends, I genuinely do not care that he has purchased Twitter. If the last two year have taught me anything, it’s that we really can’t predict what is going to happen. So rather than losing sleep over whether or not this is the end of society as we know it, I have chosen to lose sleep over Rex Orange Counties new fantastic album. 

While I genuinely do not have an opinion on Musk’s purchase of Twitter, I do have an opinion on the way we speak about Musk and his autism. On May 8, 2021, Elon Musk hosted Saturday Night Live, during his opening monologue he revealed that he has autism spectrum disorder (ASD)*. If you have followed Musk for a long time, this probably didn’t come as a surprise. Musk famously hyper-fixates on projects, has little to no tonal intonation when he speaks, and often seems uncomfortable or out of place in large social gatherings. All three of these characteristics are incredibly common attributes among individuals with ASD. One characteristic that is not attributed to ASD, however, is a low IQ.

According to a 2011 study by T. Charman, ASD is not strongly linked to intellectual disabilities, with some participants in the study even having above average IQs. I believe that this is the case for Elon Musk. A friend recently told me jokingly that whether you “hate the guy or love the guy, you can’t deny he’s a genius – one day we’ll look back and say he was the da Vinci of our time.” While I do love being stubborn, I couldn’t help but agree. From PayPal to Tesla to SpaceX, Musk clearly has intelligence and intellect that is changing the world.

That’s why I was stunned when, recently, I heard an episode of Pod Save America where the hosts bashed Musk for being a weird guy and socially atypical.  They gave examples of him being obviously uncomfortable at White House parties and talked about how he once wouldn’t start a meeting until he cleared out his email inbox. Don’t we, in the year 2022, know better? How is it acceptable to weaponize someone’s ASD diagnosis in an attack against them? Hasn’t his brilliance and savy proven that, while he may not thrive or feel comfortable in the same social settings as a neurotypical individual, he is still one of the brightest entrepreneurs of our time?

In the coming months and years, we are going to be speaking about Elon Musk a lot. Buying Twitter and sending civilians to outer space are not going to be the last unconventional moves Musk makes. And as he progressively takes up more space in our cyber environment, an increasing amount of valid criticisms will be launched at him. I agree that as Musk grows his power we must stay vigilant, ready to check him as he makes large-scale decisions which will inevitably have a ripple effect on our everyday lives. But taking shots at his autism will never be acceptable. To critique or criticize him for behaviors out of his control and criticize features that are innate to his being and entirely unrelated to his business decisions, is not only wrong, but it is cruel. Making fun of his Autism only serves to stigmatize and belittle his diagnosis.  

Not despite but rather because of his diagnosis, Musk is going to continue to dominate the tech world for the foreseeable future so please be mindful with the way you speak about him and the criticism you glibly put online. I promise you that Elon Musk will not see your hurtful comments about his Autism, but someone you love who is autistic will.  

* Musk referred to his diagnosis as Asperger’s Syndrome but as of 2013 the DSM no longer identifies Aspergers as a diagnosis, rather adding it to the spectrum of Autism, therefore for the purposes of this article I will refer to his diagnosis as ASD.