Autism National Service (NS) Enlistment

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A few countries require their citizens to serve in the military: Austria, Mexico, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Israel, Malaysia, Taiwan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Guyana. The service period varies between a few weeks to a few years.

I have served in the Ministry of Defense of Singapore for 2 years and 4 months as a clerk. Fortunately, I had understanding colleagues and superiors who helped me through this difficult journey.

Singapore takes NS seriously: Refusal to serve NS will result in up to 3 years of imprisonment plus a S$10,000 fine. The culprit will still have to serve NS after the jail term.

Working in the Military

Military Life is designed to prepare NeuroTypical soldiers for war. Many aspects of such life are unsuitable for autistics:

Military Life Characteristics

Common Autistic Issues

Possible Consequences

Tough Physical Life: Boot camp is no joke. You may have to march under the hot sun for hours, gobble down your lunch in 5 minutes, live on only 3 hours of daily sleep and camp in ant, mosquito and leech infested jungles. Poor Health: Unable to withstand such punishment continuously for months. Serious illness, exhaustion and physical suffering. May be accused of playing sick to avoid combat duties.
Fast Reactions: Your instructors and commanders will give you verbal commands that you must react to immediately. This is necessary if you want to survive actual combat. Central Auditory Processing Disorder: Difficulty understanding verbal instructions and translating them into motor action. Needs a lot of time to think. Frequent punishment for slow reactions. Acting on incorrectly heard instructions when handling weapons or equipment may hurt self and others.
Low Tolerance: Soldiers must follow rules exactly, be punctual and not to make mistakes in order to survive in combat. Carelessness: Tend to be sloppy with their work outside their area of interest or competency. Frequent punishment for mistakes and breaking rules (such as the correct way to address superiors). May be mistaken for insubordination if this keeps happening.
Strong Social Bonds: Soldiers live together in a tightly knit social group called a platoon. They share a bunk and treat each other as brothers whom they can depend on to save their lives in combat. Poor Social Skills: Difficulty understanding friendly teasing, jokes and intentions.
Little Desire to Socialize: Prefers to spend time alone pursuing special interests.
Offends bunkmates, who use bullying as social punishment. Finds continuous social intimacy too exhausting and demanding.
Rigid Obedience: Soldiers are expected to obey their commanders without question.

Social Hierarchy Blindness + Logical Mentality: Difficulty accepting "illogical" orders. Wishes to improve on matters by making "logical" suggestions.

Frequent punishment for insubordination. Bullying by superiors who believe that person is "trying to be funny".
Pragmatism: War is about the business of eliminating the enemy. This usually means that you have to kill them. Strict Moral Code: Difficulty accepting the idea of having to harm other people Death or serious injury in actual combat.
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Before National Service

  • Research Military Life: Study books and watch videos about life in the military to see what you are likely to experience. You will also find a lot of useful information at online forums, though these may be unreliable or untrustworthy.
  • Find legal avenues to avoid service: If you decide that military life is not for you, you may be able to avoid NS if you fulfill certain criteria, such as giving up your citizenship before a certain age.
  • Defer service: Alternatively, you may be able to defer serving NS such as by going for tertiary studies before a certain age. Your qualifications may qualify you for a higher rank (and allowance) so you can avoid being bullied. You may also qualify to serve in a civilian department where you can avoid most of the problems with military life.
  • Develop a very important skill / talent: If you are very good in a skill highly valued by the military, such as information warfare, they may deploy you in a civilian position where you can use that skill. Ask a qualified mentor to write a letter for the military to introduce your skill and its usefulness.
  • Consider signing on: Your handicap will probably preclude you from signing on as a Regular Soldier (for much higher pay, rank and benefits). However, if you have that special skill they need, they may make an exception. If you sign on to work in a civilian unit, it will be just like working in a typical day job.

Preparing for National Service

  • Obtain help from an autism professional: If you cannot avoid NS or are not willing to pay the price to do so, then you should ask a professional to provide you with a letter explaining your handicap to the military. At the very least, they can exempt you from combat service, which will keep you out of the most serious trouble.
  • Plan your social strategy: Work with a NeuroTypical advisor to see what kinds of benefits and contributions that you can make at boot camp for your bunkmates. When your posting is confirmed after boot camp, do the same for your new colleagues. In the absence of natural empathy and social skills, you must demonstrate your social sincerity in order to gain acceptance. I brought biscuits to feed my bunkmates, who did not have enough time to finish lunch. I brought a Swiss knife which helped them make holes for a pin in their beret. Battery powered chargers for mobile phones are also useful in modern camps.
  • Get enough rest: Make sure that you are very well rested just before entering boot camp as you may find it hard to get rest in your bunk. For me, a stinky, moldy pillow kept me awake the first night until I applied a packet of talcum power onto it the next day. However, I could do nothing to stop a few bunkmates from keeping everyone awake with their loud chatting after bedtime, and then waking everyone up 90 minutes before assembly time.
  • Accept the inevitable: If there is no escape from NS, then you might as well confront it bravely. Stop complaining and worrying. Start preparing for it using whatever means possible.

Making the best out of National Service

NS does not necessarily have to be a waste of your youth. You can make the most out of it.

  • Complete a project: You may have a hobby that you can do during your free time. Use the time during your NS to do a useful and interesting project based on that hobby.
  • Build your Resume: If you do your work well and take on challenging projects, you may be recognized and rewarded for good performance. If the military does not provide you with a testimonial listing your achievements, ask a trusted superior to write this for you. You can use it to get a good job later on.
  • Learn about work life: NS will give you an opportunity to understand what a working relationship entails. Learning this well can help you keep the job you find later.

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