The Issues With ‘Asperger’s’
Tesla CEO Elon Musk just came out as having Asperger’s syndrome. Here’s a primer on the issues with that now-defunct disorder label.
On Saturday Night Live this week, Telsa CEO and Grimes’ paramour Elon Musk came out as having Asperger’s syndrome. During his opening monologue, Musk joked that he was the first-ever SNL host to have the disorder — or at least the first to admit to having it openly.
There’s a couple of issues with that remark. The first is that SNL very much had an openly Autistic host in the past, former cast member Dan Aykroyd. For years, Aykroyd has been vocal about being Autistic and has discussed how his own autistic special interest in the paranormal informed the writing of the 1984 film Ghostbusters. SNL has also been hosted by comedian Chris Rock, who came out last year as having Nonverbal Learning Disorder, which is on the Autism spectrum. Frequent SNL musical guest David Byrne is openly Autistic too. So Musk is far from the first out, proud Autistic to grace the Rockefeller Plaza stage.
But the real issue with Musk’s remark, as many Autism self-advocates have been quick to point out on Twitter, is not his self-aggrandizement. It’s his use of the term Asperger’s, which is generally considered by most prominent voices in the community to be outdated and unhelpful at best, downright dangerous, and anti-Semitic at worst.
The American Psychological Association removed Asperger’s syndrome from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) back in 2013, at which point it was folded into a larger category, Autism Spectrum Disorder. Asperger’s syndrome is also slated to be removed from the ICD-11 (the international analogue to DSM in the U.S.) in 2022, where it will also be combined with a broader Autism Spectrum Disorder label. The Autistic self-advocacy community celebrated this news in both cases.
Prior to its removal from the DSM, Asperger’s syndrome was a label typically assigned to Autistic people viewed as “higher functioning,” often men with high intelligence who behaved awkwardly and were resistant to change. Conversely, an Autism diagnosis was traditionally put on young children, again usually boys, who were more visibly disabled…