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The Mighty Takeaway: How Autistic People Feel About Elon Musk's SNL Appearance

Last Saturday, NBC invited Elon Musk to be host for “Saturday Night Live.” 

A controversial figure, there were mixed reactions when Elon Musk announced he’d be the Emmy award winning show’s host for the night. Even with those mixed reactions, no one expected the billionaire CEO would open up about his autism diagnosis.

“I’m actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL,” he said.

His diagnosis reveal left many people in the autistic community with varied feelings, ranging from anger at his use of the outdated term “Asperger’s,” to those who pointed out he is not actually the first person with autism to host the show. The Mighty decided to reach out to some of our autistic Super Contributors to see what their takeaways were from Elon’s time hosting SNL.

Today, we’re hearing Mighty Takeaways from Amelia Blackwater, Leslie Zukor and Robert Schmus. Let us know your take in the comments below, and join The Neurodivergent Crowd to give and get support.

1. How did you feel when Elon Musk made his diagnosis public?

Leslie: I was glad that Elon Musk made his autism public. The worst part of the discourse around being on the spectrum is that so few allistic people know of autistic influencers, other than Greta Thunberg. The more representation we receive means that people will realize there is no one correct way to be autistic. Breaking down stereotypes is crucial to accepting neurodiversity.

Robert: I think it’s great that he was able to announce this. It’s not every day that autistics disclose like that.

Amelia: Elon has a lot of potential to reach out to many people and can spread either harmful or helpful information. His announcement of his diagnosis on SNL felt off-putting to me. He started his announcement by stating that he was the first person with Asperger’s syndrome to host SNL, “or at least the first to admit it.” I felt like this was a slap in the face to one of the beloved cast members and a returned host of SNL, Dan Aykroyd, who speaks openly about his autism diagnosis in positive ways. I also worried about a lot of the things Elon made in his monologue. While the monologue was meant to have humor in it due to his announcement being on SNL, I felt that a lot of what he said didn’t change the stigmatization of people’s ideas of autism. Elon Musk has such a profound effect on society, his announcement of being on the spectrum could’ve done so much for the autism community. However, I felt like with most celebrity involvement in the autism community, it did more harm than good.

“I felt like with most celebrity involvement in the autism community, it did more harm than good.”

2. Elon Musk’s use of “Asperger’s” sparked a conversation in the autism community, with many pointing out the stigma and history associated with this label. How do you feel about his usage of the term?

Leslie: I definitely understand the concern around the term, “Asperger’s.” That being said, I find it troublesome that some of the harshest rhetoric around Musk’s coming out has been originating from the autistic community itself. There’s no correct way to be autistic, and some people prefer the Asperger’s label. I think that “Autistic Twitter” should be forgiving of older people who still identify with the term. We generally stick with the name of the condition we were diagnosed with — and this is across the board, not just for autism. I am newly diagnosed, though, so I do not identify with Asperger’s at all, and I chafe at people who tell me I should use the term.

Robert: There has been much controversy regarding the name Asperger’s lately. But of all honesty, he is using it based on the characteristics of the classification. Since my diagnosis, I have always considered myself autistic or Aspie. Doesn’t bother me one bit.

Amelia: I have never really liked the term Asperger’s or functioning labels. To dismiss the use of the label and history of Asperger’s is to dismiss the eugenics of autistics in Nazi Germany by Hans Asperger. I don’t believe the term should be continued to be used because of this. I also believe that stating these labels is like a hierarchy in the autism community. I don’t feel like it’s necessary. I am a late-diagnosed autistic and while I don’t know if Elon has just been recently diagnosed or is self-diagnosed, the term Asperger’s was removed from the DSM-5 in 2013. I don’t know the exact reason why Elon decided to use the term Asperger’s instead of just saying he’s autistic, but I do believe that saying you have Asperger’s feels like it is an elitist idea. Even if Elon does not know the history behind the term Asperger’s, he still used it to separate himself as “higher functioning” and elite compared to someone who has autism and might have more support needs.

“Since my diagnosis, I have always considered myself autistic or Aspie. Doesn’t bother me one bit.”

3. Elon Musk is a controversial person who has a history of ableist remarks, especially regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that he’s made his diagnosis public, how does this affect your perspective of him? Is the form of representation he’s giving to the autistic community helpful or more harmful?

Leslie: I’ve never had strong opinions about Elon Musk. As far as some of his faux pas, however, I would tend to be a bit more understanding, given some of the struggles autistic people have around cognitive empathy. That doesn’t mean that Musk should be excused from the harm some of his statements cause, just that we should be willing to recognize that he is neurodivergent and may not intend the degree of harm his detractors impute to him.

Robert: I feel that it can be helpful. It shows that autistics can reach for the sky. As for his views, it doesn’t bother me. Not everyone is going to think the same way and that’s fine.

Amelia: I think Elon is a product of capitalism. I believe he sees something and he finds a way to make a profit off it. When it came to the pandemic he believed that someone, like myself, who is both autistic and a disabled, high-risk life didn’t matter. He has also expressed in previous interviews a desire to “solve” autism and schizophrenia through an AI chip. I understand why a lot of neurotypicals would rather celebrate someone like Elon Musk. He’s a genius-level autistic who wants to cure autism. To a lot of people, he provides hope. But to a proud autistic who doesn’t want a cure, I don’t see Elon being a positive advocate in the autistic community.

“To a lot of people, he provides hope. But to a proud autistic who doesn’t want a cure, I don’t see Elon being a positive advocate in the autistic community.”

4. Any other takeaways you’d like to mention?

Leslie: Anyone can be autistic, from a Nobel Peace Prize winner to a mass murderer. We shouldn’t be the gatekeepers of whom should be allowed to identify as being part of our community. I would hope that autistic people would be closer to the former, but the truth is that we don’t share anything in common other than meeting the criteria for this condition. It is important to note that nothing about Musk’s diagnosis affects my disability justice advocacy in the least.

Robert: All I can say is bravo to Mr. Musk. I wish him the best and I hope this helps other autistics to come forward when disclosing about themselves. The world needs bravery.

Amelia: Although it can be nice when any community has celebrity representation, it can be unwanted and tough when that representation is toxic and stigmatizes a whole population. The autism community can often be put in categories and when you have such a notable figure like Elon, I worry that other autistics who have low supports needs will be again put in the box of, “Oh, you must be like Elon Musk,” instead of trying to understand us. I think it’s important to understand that again this is just one person and autism is such a spectrum. Keep listening to autistic voices.

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What are your thoughts on the matter? We’d love to hear them! Comment below or post your thoughts in The Neurodivergent Crowd.

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