Page 1 of 1 [ 4 posts ] 


User avatar

Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 66
Gender: Male
Posts: 33,185
Location: Long Island, New York

01 Jun 2023, 8:20 am

Modern War Institute
Cortney Weinbaum is a senior national security researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan, RAND Corporation. She is the author of the study “Neurodiversity and National Security: How to Tackle National Security Challenges with a Wider Range of Cognitive Talents.” She is a former intelligence officer.

The Army’s relationship with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other cognitive diagnoses that are collectively called neurodivergent is . . . complicated.

Autistic soldiers, and soldiers with other neurodivergent diagnoses, are already serving on active duty, in many cases in secret—hiding their diagnoses from the Army—and I know this because they called to tell me. My team at the RAND Corporation published the first study ever conducted in the United States about neurodiversity and national security, and as word spread that we were conducting this research, my phone started ringing. Based on my conversations, this is what I think the autistic and neurodivergent soldiers in your unit want you to know.

They are intelligence officers, cyber operations officers, company commanders, and in other jobs. They likely entered the military before they were diagnosed, and they went outside the military health system—and dug into their own pockets—to get assessed during adulthood. Or they are waiting until after retirement to seek official diagnoses, though they already have a deep sense of what the results will be. They fear losing the careers they love if their diagnoses were to become known, they described being bullied in the past by classmates or coworkers because of their conditions, and they described the mental cost and exhaustion of hiding their symptoms to pass as “normal” at work.

While neurodivergent diagnoses are not automatically disqualifying from Army service, any new recruit who reveals a diagnosis jumps through hoops to serve. Some described having to prove that their diagnoses do not impede their ability to serve, which puts the burden on an eighteen-year-old to prove a negative for which the Army has no assessment criteria.

Service members with ADHD—across military services—described having to give up the prescription medications that have helped them for years because use of prescription drugs would make them not deployable. Some people with ADHD ironically described that in a deployed environment a person with ADHD would be least likely to need their medications, because the deployed environment would likely provide all the stimulation their brain needs. This nonmedical theory—which has never been studied—suggests the prohibition against medicating is actually counterproductive to the military because it prevents the recruitment of persons who may demonstrate hyperfocus in a war zone, simply because outside of a war zone the management of their condition requires a non-lifesaving medication.

The CEO of a defense contracting firm said that his autistic workforce tags geospatial imagery with high precision rates and low error rates. He bragged that his autistic employees could look at a blurry satellite image with foliage in the way and tell the difference between a Russian MiG aircraft, a Ukrainian MiG, and a Russian MiG painted like a Ukrainian MiG.

Our research found peer-reviewed studies reporting that neurodivergent people outperform neurotypical people at recognizing patterns in a distracted environment, on intelligence tests using nonverbal testing methods, and at achieving states of hyperfocus. The one study we found about ethics and neurodivergence found that autistic research subjects were more likely to behave ethically even when it was at a personal cost than neurotypical subjects. If this research holds true, then the implications for people with security clearances is enormous.

Israel, the UK, and Australia already have autism programs in their national security organizations. Multibillion-dollar companies EY and Google proactively recruit neurodivergent candidates, because of the value both companies have reaped from these cadres of employees.

Our research found that “within the U.S. population, an estimated 5–20 percent of people are dyslexic, 9.4 percent of children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and more than 2 percent of the U.S. population is autistic.” Another study indicated that nearly two-thirds of American children who are diagnosed with ADHD are on prescription medications. Despite the recruitment challenges it is currently facing, the Army continues to make personnel decisions based on last century’s understanding of these diagnoses.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, generally only children who exhibited the most severe symptoms were diagnosed with these conditions. Today, in the 2020s, doctors and researchers describe these diagnoses as “spectrums,” and practitioners have more sophisticated assessment methods for diagnosing people who previously—in my childhood—would have been labeled as “normal.” This opens up a world of interventions and services for people who might otherwise have suffered in silence. As research continues to advance, practitioners are realizing how vastly different the symptoms present for girls and women than for boys and men, and how cultural differences across races and ethnicities lead symptoms to present widely differently across populations, even within the United States.

All of these advancements have resulted in people who in the past might have only barely graduated from high school now achieving advanced education degrees and living highly productive lives. (Economic barriers to interventions remain, which is a topic for a different article.) When such candidates reach an Army recruiting station, with its vague policies and inconsistent practices on this issue, they might already have a high school diploma, a college degree, or even an advanced degree.

Yet neurodivergent military and civilian officials across the national security enterprise—beyond just the Army—described living in the closet, comparing themselves to the LGBTQ community during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. They described a forced choice—either hiding their diagnoses and paying the mental costs of doing so or revealing their diagnoses and risking discrimination, bias, and even the possibility of military discharge. They described careers that they love too much to risk losing by disclosing a diagnosis.

The Department of the Army and the Department of Defense have no single policy that, if changed, would completely reverse this paradigm. Rather, this paradigm exists because a series of policies, practices, and biases have settled in place over decades.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


User avatar

Joined: 6 May 2016
Age: 60
Gender: Male
Posts: 3,965
Location: Missouri

01 Jun 2023, 8:57 am

Looking back at my youngest nephew's life there is a good possibility he is autistic to some degree.
Interestingly ...
All my brother's 3 boys joined the Army.
And ...
That youngest one is the only one still in.

"There are a thousand things that can happen when you go light a rocket engine, and only one of them is good."
Tom Mueller of SpaceX, in Air and Space, Jan. 2011


User avatar

Joined: 25 May 2023
Age: 52
Gender: Male
Posts: 713
Location: Texas aka hell

01 Jun 2023, 10:17 am


(prob. gonna make that my sig)

WPs Three Word Story (WIP)
My text only website
"Imagine Life Without Money"

Double Retired

User avatar

Joined: 31 Jul 2020
Age: 69
Gender: Male
Posts: 4,723
Location: U.S.A.         (Mid-Atlantic)

01 Jun 2023, 4:12 pm

Does anyone know if they are seeking contact from additional neurodiverse U.S. military veterans?

(My bride and I are both veterans. I'm Autistic and she is ADHD.)

When diagnosed I bought champagne!
I finally knew why people were strange.