Are Teens With Autism Required to Register for Selective Service?

If you're the parent of a teenage boy with autism spectrum disorder, you may wonder if he is exempt from having to register for Selective Service, given that autism can be a lifelong disability that can impair critical skills such as speech, social communication, and physical coordination.

The short answer is that the majority of 18-year-old boys, with or without autism, do have to register—but that doesn't necessarily mean they will have to serve. Here are the facts.

Close-up of rows of soldiers' boots
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Registration Is Required for Most Men

The U.S. government requires all men to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday, and they must keep their registration current until they turn 26.

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, homebound, cannot function away from home, or is unable to understand the significance of registration with the Selective Service System.

While there are some young men with severe autism who fit this description, most do not. If you feel that your son meets these criteria, you would need written documentation from a doctor that supports your argument.

Penalties for Not Registering

Failure to register for Selective Service is a felony that can result in a significant fine and even imprisonment.

What's more, a young man cannot get a driver's license if he has not registered, nor is he eligible for student loans or college grants, government jobs, or federally-funded job training.

People With Autism May Not Meet Military Criteria

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

According to Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03 (Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services) those with an autism spectrum disorder do not meet the standard for military service "by virtue of current diagnosis, or due to a verified past medical history."

Hence, 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 autism spectrum diagnosis will probably mean they would be turned down.

Registering for Selective Service does not mean someone is actually eligible to serve in the military. If there were to be a draft, those registered would be evaluated more closely.

In the Event of a Draft

While your son will most likely need to register for Selective Service, he is not automatically considered eligible for military service. By registering, he is simply 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.

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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. Selective Service System. Benefits and Repercussions.

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