Apr 15, 2022 - Health

Elon Musk opens up on how Asperger's has impacted his life

Elon Musk on stage in front of crowd
Elon Musk interviewed by the head of TED Chris Anderson in Vancouver. Screenshot: TED

Elon Musk opened up on Thursday about his experience growing up with Asperger's syndrome, or autism spectrum disorder.

Why it matters: Most adults with "invisible disabilities" such as Asperger’s conceal them professionally to avoid stigmas and potential discrimination, research has found.

  • As the founder of numerous companies, "acknowledging the influence of Asperger's ... given the relatively few known examples of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders with Asperger’s, Musk's [sharing] may inspire the next generation of young adults with Asperger’s," Amy E. Hurley-Hanson and Cristina M. Giannantonio, workplace neurodiversity researchers and management professors at Chapman University's Argyros School of Business, tell Axios.

Growing up, “the social cues were not intuitive,” Musk said when asked about it on stage at the TED2022 conference in Vancouver, Canada.

  • “I would just tend to take things very literally … but then that turned out to be wrong — [people were not] simply saying exactly what they mean, there's all sorts of other things that are meant, and [it] took me a while to figure that out,” he recalled.

Flashback: Musk widely revealed having Asperger’s last year when he hosted “Saturday Night Live.”

  • In his opening monologue, Musk said: "To anyone who I’ve offended [with my Twitter posts], I just want to say I reinvented electric cars, and I'm sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?"

When asked about a potential link between his companies and Asperger’s, Musk said it’s “certainly possible” that it was valuable from a technology standpoint. 

  • “I found it rewarding to spend all night programming computers, just by myself. … But I think that is not normal.”
  • He said he also became “obsessed” with physics and trying to figure out the meaning of life.
  • “My driving philosophy is to expand the scope and scale of consciousness so that we may better understand the nature of the universe.”

The big picture: Asperger's and other similar disorders that were previously diagnosed separately are now part of a wide diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

  • Roughly 1.5 million people with ASD are expected to reach adulthood in the next decade and poised to enter the workplace in unprecedented numbers, Hurley-Hanson and Giannantonio say.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify that Asperger's syndrome is known as autism spectrum disorder.

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