Welcome to a new blog series from The Behavior Exchange! Every month we’ll be telling Stories of Hope about people who’ve been successful and made their mark in the world despite having autism.
We hope these stories inspire all who read them, especially parents of children with autism who are struggling to see past the day-to-day to what’s possible with the right interventions, like ABA therapy, time, and perseverance.
These stories are also a good reminder that all successful people play to their strengths. For people with autism, their strengths just happen to be different than most. Our first story is a great example of that.
His parents thought he was deaf.
In 2021, Elon Musk, the multibillionaire cofounder of six companies and the owner of Twitter told the world he has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
In this article, Elon is said to have been introspective as a kid, according to his mother. So much so that she had his hearing tested only to find out he could hear just fine. She eventually learned that his ability to zone out and go into his own little world was his way of daydreaming about his inventions.
It could also have to do with what Elon explains in this TED interview that he didn’t understand social cues that everyone else understood automatically, which is common with autism. He took things that others would say literally. “But that turned out to be wrong. There are all sorts of other things that are meant. It took me a while to figure that out.”
As a result of being socially disconnected from his peers, Elon found solace in books. “I read lots of books. Gradually I understood more from the books that I was reading and watched a lot of movies.” It’s reported that he had read the entire encyclopedia Britannica before he was ten and spent up to 10 hours a day pouring over science fiction novels, comics, and non-fiction books.
It would naturally follow, that with his hyper-focused mind, another common symptom of autism, Elon developed a deep interest in science and technology as he was obsessed with finding the truth that answered all the big questions about the universe and our existence.
Elon suggests in the TED interview that his Asperger’s was beneficial to his success. “I found it rewarding to spend all night programming computers, just by myself.Most people don’t enjoy typing strange symbols into a computer by themselves all night. They think that’s not fun. But I really liked it.” It’s no wonder he created a video game and sold it to a computer magazine at the ripe old age of 12!
Elon went on to earn bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics at the University of Pennsylvania. He also started graduate school to further his studies in physics and his obsession with the truth, but left after two days, having realized the internet was the future.
By the age of 25, he started his first company called Zip2 that sold four years later for over $300 million. He then founded an online financial services company that became what we know as PayPal today.
From there, the sky was the limit – literally! In 2002, he started SpaceX to build rockets that were affordable and therefore allowed for more space exploration and the search for truth.
Today, his most famous company, Tesla, sells one of the top five most purchased cars in 2023, the Model Y.
Elon says he’s driven by a philosophy to expand the scope and scale of human consciousness, so that we may better understand the nature of the universe. If he’s ultimately successful, we can thank a brain that has a neurological disorder we call autism.
To give your child with autism the very best opportunity for a happy and meaningful life where they can reach their full potential, contact The Behavior Exchange. Our autism and ABA therapy experts can help!