Elon Musk’s comments on autism prove he should not podcast

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Elon Musk’s comments on autism prove he should not podcast
Elon Musk thinks about what he should probably not say next
Elon Musk thinks about what he should probably not say next

Image: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

By Marcus Gilmer

Another podcast, another example of Elon Musk opening his mouth and stepping in it. 

This time, as noted by Business Insider, it was a Musk appearance on Lex Fridman’s Artificial Intelligence podcast that’s resulted in some backlash for the Tesla and SpaceX chief. 

At one point in the discussion, which you can watch here, Musk says of his Neuralink project: “So Neuralink I think, at first, will solve a lot of brain-related diseases. So, could be anything from, like, autism, schizophrenia, memory loss — like, everyone experiences memory loss at certain points in age. Parents can’t remember their kids’ names and that kind of thing.”

Oof.

It’s clear Musk meant well here as he’s talking about the possible ways in which Neuralink could positively impact the world. But the inclusion of autism as a “disease” that needs to be cured reveals a misguided view of what autism is and what causes it. So let’s take a look at what it actually means.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies autism as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” 

Meanwhile, autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks expands on that, saying, “Autism … refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” It also notes that autism is a spectrum disorder “most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.”

The UK’s National Autism Society is even more succinct, noting, “autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured.'”

And the idea that autism can be cured is tacitly suggesting it should be cured, attaching a stigma to those diagnosed with the disorder. So for Musk to suggest it should be cured, is to suggest there is something wrong with people with autism. 

Thomas W. Frazier II, PhD, chief science officer at Autism Speaks

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