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(UK) British army may accept recruits with ASD/ADHD; "they are often 'rich' in digital skills"

May 29, 2024, Telegraph: Army may let recruits with autism or mental health troubles join up

Recruits with autism or a history of depression could be allowed in the Armed Forces for the first time, The Telegraph can reveal.

Under plans being drawn up by Capita, the outsourcing giant which has the contract for Army recruitment, potential recruits who would normally face a “blanket ban” are to be considered in an attempt to stem the military’s hiring crisis.

Currently, applicants who have autism or ADHD – attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – are rejected outright from joining the Army.

The Telegraph understands that this results in more than 500 candidates being turned away each year, while nearly 4,000 candidates last year were rejected because they had psychiatric conditions which classed them as ineligible.

A reassessment of the medical requirements for recruits, including refining questions on ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and mental health, has been put forward.

A recruitment crisis is threatening to engulf the military, with all three services suffering from falling employment.

‘Is there shades of grey?’

Official government figures found that in the 12 months to March, intake for the Army dropped by almost 15 per cent.

Meanwhile, in the past 10 years, 83 per cent of the 707,000 people who applied to join the Army voluntarily withdrew their application, with fewer than 80,000 recruited.

A defence insider told The Telegraph: “Our medical understanding over the last 30 years has increased markedly. 

“But we haven’t really changed the entry standards to match our medical understanding. 

“So what we’re doing is using data to challenge the question, ‘Is it a blanket ADHD [ban]?’”

They asked: “Is it, are there shades of grey in this? Autism is the same.

“The rules are black and white about ADHD. If you have a clinical diagnosis on ADHD or autism, you’re not able to join.”

The Army stipulates that joining can be “challenging both physically and mentally”. 

It states that while health problems may not affect an individual’s everyday life, such a medical history may prevent them from being able to join.

It is estimated that there are up to 1.2 million autistic people and 2.2 million with ADHD in England. People with ADHD may experience problems with impulsivity and difficulty concentrating.

Referrals for both have risen fivefold since the pandemic, according to research published by the Nuffield Trust health think tank in April.

More than 172,000 people were waiting for a diagnosis in December 2023, more than five times higher than the 32,220 four years earlier, amid fears that doctors may be overdiagnosing the conditions.

Diagnoses of ADHD and autism have risen sharply over the last few decades.  
A report from the Nuffield Trust has shown that the number of people in England awaiting an autism or ADHD diagnosis has risen fivefold in four years.
In April 2019, just 17,409 people had an open referral for suspected autism. In December that year, the figure was 32,233 and by December 2023, this had risen to 172,022.

While there is no national data on referrals for ADHD, it has been reported that between 2019-20 and 2022-23, there was a 51 per cent increase in the number of people prescribed with medication for the condition.

The Telegraph understands that senior military figures are keen to recruit candidates who are neurodivergent as they are often “rich” in digital skills. 

However, current rules preclude them from being considered.

“We’re challenging that theory,” they said.

The source added that “mental health is also an issue”.

“We now put upon every Tube station entry, ‘It’s okay to not be OK’, but it’s not okay to not be OK if you want to join the Army,” they said.

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, said it was right to revisit the criteria by which people are accepted or rejected.

“It makes quite a lot of sense, in terms of medical conditions and mental health,” he said.

“We should accept a little bit more risk and if the risk turns bad, we can discharge them. 

“It may be that serving in a collegiate way with someone with a not too severe mental illness is what they need.”

‘It’s right to be more flexible’ . . .

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Recruitment and retention are a priority. The Army continues to implement a number of measures to improve recruitment and retention to both Regular forces and the Reserves.”

Capita declined to comment.



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