Can Someone With Autism Be Drafted

Can Someone With Autism Be Drafted

The United States military has used conscription, commonly known as the draft, during times of war or national emergency. It requires certain segments of the population to register with the Selective Service System. The last draft was from 1940-1973 during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The military has been all-volunteer since 1973, but the Selective Service System remains in place and all male U.S. citizens between 18 and 25 are required to register.

This raises the question of whether someone diagnosed with ASD could potentially be drafted if conscription were reinstated. Let’s explore the criteria for draft eligibility and exemptions to better understand how autism factors in.


History of the Draft

The United States has employed conscription, commonly known as the draft, several times throughout its history to rapidly grow its armed forces during wartime.

The first national draft in the US was implemented during the Civil War in 1863 under the Enrollment Act. All male citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 were required to register for military service and could be called up if their number was selected in a lottery system. Exemptions were allowed for certain occupations or for paying a fee.

The US instituted conscription again for World War I in 1917 with the Selective Service Act. All men ages 21 to 30 were required to register for the draft. Local draft boards used a lottery system to select registrants and decide if exemptions should be granted. Nearly 3 million men were drafted during WWI.

At the start of World War II in 1940, the first peacetime draft was established by the Selective Training and Service Act which required all men between 21 and 35 to register. Draftees were selected by random lottery numbers during WWII. Over 10 million men were drafted throughout the war.

The Selective Service System continues today to register all 18-25-year-old men for potential conscription in case of a national emergency, but there has not been an active draft since 1973 during the Vietnam War. Since then, the US military has consisted of volunteer enlistees. However, the infrastructure for reinstating a draft remains in place.


Current Draft Eligibility

The current draft laws apply to all male U.S. citizens and male immigrants residing in the U.S., who are between the ages of 18 and 25. Women are not currently required to register for the draft.

There are some exceptions to draft registration. Men who are incapable of serving in the military due to a serious medical condition may be exempt. Examples of disqualifying medical conditions include blindness, uncontrolled diabetes, severe asthma, transsexualism, and cancer. However, most disabilities do not provide an exemption. Only the most severe medical conditions that would prevent someone from serving in any capacity could potentially exempt registration.


Autism and the Draft

The eligibility criteria for being drafted into military service are complex but generally focus on physical, mental, and moral fitness. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can potentially impact draft eligibility, but having an ASD diagnosis does not automatically disqualify someone.

The regulations state that “current or history of disorders with psychotic features such as schizophrenia” may be disqualifying. However, ASD is a developmental disorder, not a psychotic disorder. The regulations also mention “current or history of obsessive-compulsive disorder” as potentially disqualifying. While obsessive or repetitive behaviors can be a symptom of ASD, the disorder itself is distinct from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

There are no explicit mentions of ASD or Asperger’s syndrome in the medical standards for service eligibility. So having these diagnoses does not automatically make someone ineligible. The key factors are the severity of symptoms, the degree of required support, and functional abilities.

For example, someone with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s may be able to serve without special accommodations. Their symptoms may be mild enough to not interfere with completing required duties. However, someone with severe autism who requires significant care and support would likely not meet the standards.

Ultimately, eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis. The medical exam and screening process will evaluate the specific abilities, needs, and limitations of the prospective service member. While ASD increases the chances of being disqualified, having the diagnosis itself does not definitively determine eligibility.


Seeking a Deferment

Those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be eligible for a deferment or exemption from the draft on medical grounds.

The process for requesting a medical deferment or exemption begins by notifying your local Selective Service board in writing. This should be done as soon as possible upon receiving a draft notice.

Along with a written request, you must provide supporting documentation from a physician detailing your medical condition, limitations, and prognosis. The physician must certify that your condition would render you unfit for military service.

Specific criteria for medical deferments relate to the ability to undergo training and serve without aggravating the condition. Those with ASD would need to demonstrate that symptoms like difficulties with communication, social interactions, sensory issues, or rigid behaviors would significantly impair their ability to serve.

The local board reviews each case individually based on the physician’s assessment. Those with milder forms of ASD may not qualify if they are deemed able to serve in limited roles. Approval is not guaranteed, but supporting evidence from your doctor can strengthen the case for a medical deferment.

The process involves patience, persistence, and coordination with your physician to compile documentation. Making the effort to pursue a deferment is advised for those with disabilities like ASD who may face undue hardship in military service.


Serving with Disabilities

The US military has made significant progress in accommodating service members with disabilities. There are many jobs in the armed forces that can be successfully performed by those with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Some key accommodations available include:

  • Allowing service dogs for emotional support and sensory issues
  • Providing noise-canceling headphones to help minimize sensory overload
  • Giving extra time and assistance for training exercises
  • Modifying communication methods to be more direct and clear
  • Adjusting lighting and physical spaces to reduce stimulation
  • Offering counseling and therapy resources

Many roles do not require being on the frontlines in combat. There are important jobs in technology, intelligence, logistics, maintenance, administration, medicine, and more where those with ASD can excel and make valuable contributions. The structure and rules of military service combined with accommodations and appropriate job placement can allow people with disabilities like ASD to serve their country successfully.

With the right support and openness, the military aims to give opportunities to all who wish to serve. Disabilities like ASD do not have to be disqualifying if reasonable accommodations can be made.


Alternative Service

Individuals with autism who are drafted but unable to serve in the military due to their disability may qualify for alternative service options. Two well-known programs are Americorps and the Peace Corps. Both offer opportunities for national service outside of the armed forces.

To be eligible for Americorps, individuals must be at least 17 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Projects focus on education, disaster response, economic opportunity, the environment, and more. Peace Corps service is available to U.S. citizens over 18 who commit to 27 months abroad focused on education, health, community economic development, environment, youth development, and agriculture.

Those with religious, ethical, or moral objections to war may also apply for conscientious objector status. To qualify, individuals must demonstrate sincere opposition to participation in war of any form. If approved, they can be assigned to alternative civilian service instead of being drafted. However, conscientious objection does not exempt someone from registering with the Selective Service System upon turning 18.


Exemption Unlikely

Calls for blanket exemptions for autism are unlikely to gain traction, as advocates make compelling arguments for inclusive military service.

Proponents of exemptions believe the challenges of military life would be too difficult for many on the spectrum. They argue basic training environments and combat situations could trigger sensory overload, anxiety, and meltdowns. Strict hierarchy, schedules, and social demands may seem incompatible with autism.

However, many argue the military should not exclude capable volunteers. Generalized exemptions underestimate the skills and resilience of individuals on the spectrum. While autism presents challenges, many can thrive in military roles with proper support and accommodations.

Advocates point to the potential benefits of inclusive service. The military needs diverse skill sets, as many autistics excel in areas like analysis, pattern recognition, and concentration. Their unique perspectives can improve teams and missions. Serving together builds understanding and acceptance.

With individualized evaluations, reasonable accommodations, and appropriate placements, those with ASD can make valued contributions. Blanket exemptions discount their capabilities and deny opportunities to citizens who wish to serve their country. The military aims to leverage talents, not impose limits based on diagnosis.



In summary, the United States military draft has a long history but is currently inactive. All male U.S. citizens and immigrants ages 18-25 are required to register with the Selective Service System, though exemptions exist. If conscription were reinstated, those with disabilities like autism spectrum disorder would need to meet the same criteria as others to be drafted.

Someone diagnosed with ASD is unlikely to be fully exempted from the draft. However, they may qualify for a deferment or alternative service if their symptoms significantly impair functioning. Reasonable accommodations may be provided for basic training if drafted. Each case is evaluated individually. With proper support and job matching, many with ASD can serve successfully in the military. Though the draft is inactive, registering with Selective Service is still required. Understanding the policies can help those with disabilities navigate their options.

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