A diagnosis of autism can lead to an automatic disqualification to serve in the military, although medical waivers can be granted. 

But for some autistic individuals with specific skill sets, the military can be a good option.

Autistic People & the Military

In general, people with autism who apply to the military are automatically disqualified from serving due to their diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Medical waivers are granted, however, on a case-by-case basis.
A behavioral health consultant from the Department of Defense must grant a medical waiver and allow someone with autism to serve in the military.  

If you have autism, your likelihood of being able to serve in the military varies on multiple factors including:

  • Your specific diagnosis of autism
  • Which autism symptoms you exhibit
  • Which branch of the military you are interested in joining

The tendency to enlist individuals with autism varies by military branch as follows:

  • Army: For intelligent and hardworking individuals with mild to no significant symptoms, you may be able to get a medical waiver to join the U.S. Army as it is frequently looking for soldiers to serve on bases around the world.
  • Navy: To join the Navy, you must see a specialist to determine where on the spectrum you are and if your symptoms will likely affect your productivity at work. Then, you must demonstrate that you meet the medical, moral, and mental standards of the Navy.
  • Air Force: Since the Air Force requires higher entry test scores than other branches in the military, as well as excellent social and communication skills, being admitted can be challenging for people with autism. However, getting a medical waiver is still possible.
  • Marine Corp: As one of the smallest and most selective branches of the military, acceptance into the Marine Corp is challenging for anyone. Medical waivers are granted far less often than other branches. 
  • Coast Guard: As the smallest branch of the military, the Coast Guard recruitment process is extremely competitive and selective. Developmental disorders make getting through the process even more challenging, although individuals with milder autism symptoms may be able to apply for a waiver successfully.

Level of Severity of Autism

Supporters of allowing people with autism into the military argue that people with high-functioning autism have a place there. The military could make so-called “high-functioning autism” a waiverable condition. Some argue that not everyone with autism could or should be allowed to serve in the military, as the severity of the condition varies significantly. 

Some individuals with autism may be highly qualified to serve their country. A blanket ban against allowing people with autism into the military prevents many willing, smart, and capable individuals from potentially serving. 

Proponents suggest that autistic individuals who do not have sensory issues and have not required special education services in the past year should be allowed into the military. Like other Americans, people with autism may also appreciate the opportunity to experience a sense of belonging and to serve their country.

A Place for Autistic People in the Military

While most militaries around the world do little or nothing to support autistic people in the military, the Israel Defense Forces, the military of the State of Israel, established a program that utilizes the unique strengths of individuals with autism. With the goal of integrating young people on the spectrum into the military, Watching the Horizon was formed in 2013 as the first program in the world to train people on the spectrum to interpret and decode satellite images. 

The program targets the unique analytical skills, memory, and high attention to detail that many people with autism possess. The success of the soldiers in the program has affected not only the soldiers with autism, but also those without. 

Officers of the program describe the soldiers with autism as some of the best soldiers they have ever had.

How to Determine if the Military Would Be a Fulfilling Career Path

To determine if the military would offer you a fulfilling career path, it is important to consider all aspects of what such a career might look like. There are both pros and cons to working in the military, whether you have autism or not. 

Consider the following points before joining the military:

  • There is an emphasis on being in peak physical condition.
  • Your self-confidence will likely improve.
  • You’ll be trained to take action.
  • You’ll gain skills in leadership, teamwork, and combat.
  • Self-discipline is essential and emphasized.
  • There are physical risks.
  • You operate in a highly structured environment.
  • Breaking new recruits down and reshaping them to fit the military is common.
  • You are held to the strict Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  • You could be called back into service after you leave.
  • Politics play a significant role in the military.

Weigh the pros and cons of military life to help you decide if the military is a good option for you. For people with autism, there are potential benefits and challenges to pursuing a career in the military. 

No one is guaranteed entrance to the military, however. The enlistment process can be even more challenging for people with autism. If you are able to get a medical waiver to serve in the military, your unique skills may be of great use to the military and your country.