Can someone with autism or ADHD join the armed forces?

Will autism or ADHD prevent you, or your child, from joining up? The answer is not “No”, but the options are narrow: It depends on the impact of the ADHD or autism.

Our armed forces websites have lists of health conditions that can stop or delay you from joining up. They are clear that you can still apply even if you have these conditions – it’s just that you will still need to pass the medical. If we ever see a return to National Service for 18 year olds, the same rules will probably apply.

Some items on the list are short-term obstacles. For example, you can’t join the army, navy or RAF if you are pregnant. Other issues can’t be overcome (e.g. the loss of a limb).

You can read the army’s list of medical conditions here. Surprisingly, Autism and ADHD are not mentioned on the list.

The Assessment

To join the forces, candidates with ADHD or autism will need to pass the medical assessment (as well as the normal selection tests). This medical assessment uses a book called the Joint Service Manual of Medical Fitness. This was updated in Oct 2022.

Our Army, Navy and RAF all use this same book, so the outcome of assessments should be the same for all three services.


The book outlines the military’s view on “hyperkinetic disorders.” This includes ADHD:

…then they may be found medically fit to join. Evidence should be sought to confirm the candidate has been functioning normally for at least a year (e.g. successfully holding down a job, good attendance at school).


It’s less black and white.

The question is does the autism (or Aspergers) disable the person?

The term disable means that the condition has a significant impact on day-to-day life. Some autistic people have developed such advanced coping strategies that autism does not have a significant impact. Also, in cases where the autism is mild, it may not disable the person. In both cases, then the person might be declared medically fit by the specialist military physician.

But, unless the autism is mild, or non-disabling, the person will normally be declared unfit.

If there is doubt, a referral is made to the service’s doctor to do more detailed assessments. However, they may say that such an assessment isn’t needed because the normal forces selection tasks are such a good way of assessing the impact of your autism.

Is this all legal?

The Equality Act (2010) says that disabled people should be treated equally. However, it has exceptions for our armed forces. For example, you don’t break the Equality Act if you discriminate in order to safeguard national security (as long as it’s a proportionate way of safeguarding our national security).

Because autism and ADHD affect people so differently, it would be hard to argue that a blanket ban on ADHD or autism is proportionate. However, if the forces medically assess a person, they can still reject them if the disability could affect our national security if that person was serving in our armed forces.

Do not assume you will get a face-to-face assessment. An assessment might be made without seeing you, for example, by making an assessment of medical records from your GP. There may be historic things in your medical records from a time when your condition did impact on your day-to-day life. So, if you really want to join up, the onus is on you to show you are now functioning normally. Letters from an employer, college, officers in the cadets etc may help in this. It’s important to note that, even with this extra evidence, you might still be assessed as medically unfit.

Is there a future for Autism or ADHD in the services?

The forces guidance changes over time but assessors will always need to consider the need to deploy troops across the globe at short notice. Reasonable adjustments, that can be made in UK civilian jobs, can’t be made when operating in Sudan, the mountains of Norway or the jungles of Borneo.

However, as we move towards an age where high-tech warfare plays a bigger role, the skills of neuro-diverse people may become more highly valued and, in ten years’ time, the rules may be different to today.

In the meantime, it is not an automatic “No”, to ADHD and autism. It just depends on their view of the current impact of the disability and, in the case of ADHD especially, whether there are other mental health, drug or alcohol issues.

Photo Credit: The Yorkshire Regiment

Other interesting reading

Where can I get more help?

  • Aaron King, Director

    With over 20 years experience of working with children & young people in both mainstream and SEND settings, Aaron King is the driving force behind 9000lives.

    Aaron has written for the TES, including in the Leadership & Governance sections. He has also been a school governor for around 15 years.

  • Aaron King

    Aaron King Director

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