Must Teens With Autism Register for Selective Service?

Parents may feel that their son with an autism spectrum diagnosis should be exempt from the American military, and from selective service registration. After all, autism is a sometimes-severe lifelong disability that impairs critical skills such as speech, social communication, and physical coordination.

But it's not that easy.

Close-up of rows of soldiers' boots
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Registration Is Probably Required

Unless a young man is institutionalized, homebound, or "in such a physical or mental condition that he would not comprehend the nature of his registration with the Selective Service System," he is required to register with Selective Service. While there are some young men with autism who would fit this description, most would not.

Here is how the military discusses the issue:

The only process now in effect is that men, between the ages of 18 through 25, register with Selective Service and keep their registration record current during that period. According to the Military Selective Service Act and Presidential proclamation, a man's physical or mental condition does not exempt him from registration. Exemption can only occur if the Selective Service is provided with documented evidence stating the man is hospitalized or institutionalized, home-bound, cannot function away from home, or unable to understand the significance of registration with the Selective Service System.

You may feel that your son meets these criteria because he is intellectually challenged or unable to respond verbally to your description of Selective Service. If that is the case, you would need written documentation from a doctor that supports your argument.

In the Event of a Draft...

While your son will very likely need to register for Selective Service, he is not automatically considered to be eligible for military service. Rather, he is entering his information into a database from which the military could potentially pull in the event of a draft. If, after review, your son doesn't meet the military's criteria, he will not be drafted.

Do People With Autism Meet Military Criteria?

While the military is slightly behind the times with their diagnostic information, it is safe to say that as of now people with autism spectrum disorders are not eligible for military service:

According to Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03 (Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services) persons with the following would not be medically fit for military service: pervasive developmental disorders, including Asperger Syndrome, autistic spectrum disorders, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified does not meet the standard by virtue of current diagnosis, or for which the candidate has a verified past medical history.

What If Someone With Autism Wants to Serve?

It seems likely that there are many people with the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder who not only serve, but serve with distinction. It is unlikely, however, that those people were officially diagnosed by a medical professional.

A young adult with an autism diagnosis can certainly volunteer for the military and undergo evaluation. It is possible that, in certain situations, a waiver might be issued. In general, however, a verified diagnosis will probably mean he or she would be turned down.

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Article Sources
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  1. Autism Speaks. What is autism? 2019.

  2. Selective Service System. Men with disabilities.

  3. Department of Defense. DOD instruction 6130.03 medical standards for appointment, enlistment, or induction into the military services. Updated March 30, 2018.