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Military Missing Out On 'Brilliant' Applicants Who Have Autism

Anonymous soldiers

(Picture: MOD).

Britain's military is losing the opportunity to hire "brilliant minds" due to moves to stop people who have autism from applying to join, ministers have been warned.

Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, whose 19-year-old university student son has Asperger's syndrome, appealed to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to work with her to deal with the "fundamental failure" in the application system.

Speaking during a Commons debate, she added the talents of those people on the autistic spectrum should be employed for the "nation's good".

Ms Trevelyan began her speech by saying it was "simply wrong" for autism to be classified as a "mental health disorder", telling MPs: "I do feel the Government needs to be taking on the global network of conversation that says this is an acceptable way to do it."

Ms Trevelyan said everyone has mental health, and mental ill health is something specific which requires medical treatment.

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She added: "I'm trying really hard to let the MOD let me do some work with them to look at why it is that autistic spectrum disorder is an automatic disbarment at the moment from participating in application to the military in the United Kingdom.

"This is a fundamental failure on our part to identify - there are many senior members of our military who are clearly on the autistic spectrum, and who are very, very brilliant leaders in their field.

"We have now, because many more, thank goodness, young people are diagnosed, listed it as an automatic disbarment and that shouldn't be the case.

"We're losing the opportunity for brilliant minds who have the ability to have this extraordinary focus... we absolutely need these minds employed for the nation's good."

Opening the general debate on services for people with autism, Conservative MP Huw Merriman earlier said: "The last national strategy, Think Autism, included wide-ranging strategies and was underpinned with revised statutory guidance, setting out clear duties on councils and the NHS to deliver on these actions.

"We know many local areas are not meeting all of their obligations. There are also questions about whether the (Autism Act) goes far enough. As we reach the 10th anniversary of the Act, now is an appropriate time to ask these questions."

Anonymous troops
(Picture: PA).

Labour's Paula Sherriff, shadow minister for mental health, said while autism is not a mental health condition, people on the autistic spectrum often developed mental health conditions like anxiety.

She said they were often then given "inappropriate" care in the mental health system and called for their placement there to end.

Ms Sherriff also called for a change in the law, saying current rules mean autistic people can be sectioned under the Mental Health Act even if they do not suffer a mental condition.

She added: "The minister will also be aware of the call to reform the Mental Health Act which defines autism as a mental disorder, allowing autistic people to be sectioned without having a separate treatable mental health condition."

Replying for the Government, Health Minister Caroline Dinenage said: "Many have spoken about some of the tragic cases where autistic individuals have not received the right care and support in mental health inpatient settings, we are absolutely committed to learning from this and working harder than ever to improve how care and support is provided."

She also said she would have further talks after it was pointed out to her that autism was an automatic disbar from serving in the armed forces.

Ms Dinenage added: "Autism spectrum is an automatic disbar from the military and I will be raising that with the Minister for the Armed Forces."

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