Sunday, May 07, 2006


Jared Guinther, now 18 years old, was diagnosed as a child with “moderate to severe autism.” His current dilemma is recounted in a story from The Oregonian. Jared spent most of his school life in special-ed classes, but managed to spend his senior year in high school in “regular” classes with the help of extensive tutoring and other accommodations. This was a choice by his family so Jared because they did not want him to have a modified diploma. Now it seems that Uncle Sam doesn’t see much of a distinction between Jared and any other 18 year-old.

Army recruiters, apparently under pressure to get their numbers up, have signed Jared up for a four-year hitch in one of the service’s most dangerous positions, cavalry scout. He was offered a $4,000 signing bonus, a college fund, “and more buddies than he could count.” But Jared didn’t understand he wouldn’t get the bonus until after basic training, that he was signing up for a four-year period, or just how dangerous this Army thing was going to be. His parents had to explain to him there was a war going on.

When Jared’s mother called the recruiter to explain the situation, she was told “Jared’s an 18 year-old man. He doesn’t need his mommy to make his decisions for him.”

The Army is now investigating the matter. Hopefully, that investigation will reach the obvious conclusion before Jared has to report on August 16.

The story in The Oregonian is more about the lengths to which recruiters go to remain ignorant of disqualifying factors than it is about autism. Indeed, the article relates the usual “no known cause or cure” line without mention of any of the controversies that remain the focus for so many of us. What the story does for me is to underline three needs.

First is the need to educate the public in general, and people in positions like army recruiters in particular, to recognize and understand the disabilities involved with autism. One recruiter told Jared’s mother that he (the recruiter) had dyslexia and it was no big deal. He didn’t particularly want to listen to a lecture on the differences between dyslexia and autism.

Second, we, as a country, need to develop alternative means of service for autistic adults so that they may contribute to worthwhile enterprises like national security in a meaningful and appropriate way.

Third, this story underlines for me, as a parent, the need to do everything I can do to get my child to a point where he can recognize the danger or inappropriateness of a choice, and he can advocate for himself. Does that mean I want to cure my son? Yeah, I guess it does.


Blogger Brett said...

Though I would like to say that this kind of thing is hard to believe and doesn't happen, I'm afraid it is probably all too common. Wade, I think you hit it right that this article isn't just about autism, but about military recruiting in general. As a former soldier, I know the pressure these recruiters are under to meet their quota's, but this is unexcusable.

Having said that, this story obviously gets to the heart of something parents of autistic children, especially autistic boys, must plan for the future. Some thoughts on how to help avoid this as your boy gets close to graduating high school:

* Have appropriate documents of diagnosis, treatment, IEPs, etc.
* Maybe a letter from the school district case manager, pediatrician and others
* Be proactive, and find out who the local recruiters are, for all services
* Be even more proactive, find out the chain of command for your local recruiters, all the way up to the first field grade officer (usually a Lieutenant Colonel, Battalion Commander)
* Send the information to everyone in the chain of command and the recruiters at the beginning of the senior year.

Of course, this probably only applies if your son is in a inclusion setting, since that is primarily where the recruiters will be looking.

On a related note, I've mentioned in previous posts registration for Selective Service is still mandatory for all men on their 18th birthday. As far as I know, there are no exceptions. I agree with you, Wade, that our sons have many ways to contribute, and we need to help find those ways and let others know about them.

Thanks for finding this great, though upsetting, article.


5/7/06, 9:59 PM  
Blogger Mom to Mr. Handsome said...

Oh great, another thing to worry about. What is happening to the morals and ethics in this country? Are our children that disposable, like a french fry found under the car seat? It just sickens me. Thanks for bringing this issue to light.


5/8/06, 7:51 PM  
Blogger kristina said...

You're a true advocate for our kids, Wade. This story seems almost unreal----alas, it is not.

5/8/06, 8:16 PM  
Blogger Zilari said...

I understand the intention of your post, and appreciate the fact that you're advocating for autistic people in a sense by exposing the ignorance of people who are supposedly intending to defend freedom.

I also have absolutely no issue with the notion of educating your son and helping him learn to make good choices. My parents did the same with me, and had to do so long after they did for my siblings. But this doesn't have anything to do with curing autism.

As these things often do, this comes down to education -- for autistic people who might need some additional help in recognizing certain forms of danger, and for those who know nothing about neurological variety and the implications thereof.

You can teach someone about danger avoidance without "curing" anything but a lack of information. And certainly, not all neurotypical folks have impeccable judgement. In high school, it wasn't the ASD kids who were out getting pregnant and drunk and crashing their cars into trees.

5/8/06, 8:46 PM  
Blogger Brett said...


I forgot to mention in my earlier comment, but I've added a post to Autism for Parents addressing the need to consider this in planning for the transition to adulthood of our kids. Thanks again for pointing it out.

Autism for Parents

5/8/06, 10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for finding this story. It points out the false argument of "do nothing" accept neurodiversity for neurodiversity's sake. If it wasn't for Jared's parents (parents of austics), whom the neurodiversity movement's proponents take every opportunity to condemn, Jared may have found himself in Iraq and then possibly dead! I'm not looking to cure my son but help him to become a "gifted" autistic that will understand the difference between friend and adversary."

Excuuuuuse me???

How would ANY of you know what the "neurodiversity" folks think about what happened? Did you bother to ask? NO.

There has been lively discusion of it on aut-advo Yahoo! group. Not that any of you care.

You don't need to cure your child to protect him from bullying. And you won't be able to make your child normal anyway.

5/8/06, 11:44 PM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

I find myself in the somewhat rare position of agreeing with Camille and Joseph. Although we may have rather sharp divisions about the correct response to autism in any given case, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that the general attitude among the neurodiversity camp is to “do nothing.” Of course, it is ironic that in decrying the notion that all neurodiversity advocates feel a certain way, Camille has once again lumped “all of us” into a single monolithic bloc.

This whole story seems to me to be one of those rare instances in which we can all agree on the principles involved. A young man was being taken advantage of, a problem that was due in part to his autism. While some of you obviously disagree with me on the third need I address above, the need to better advocate for autistic citizens and to find meaningful areas of societal contribution seems to me should be beyond any controversy.

And thanks to Brett for addressing this issue on what may be the most non-judgmental autism site on the net.

5/9/06, 3:13 PM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

In the comments to the next post, moi from bloggg posted a link to her update on this matter. The short version is, Jared's out thanks to his parent's wise decision to get the media involved.

5/9/06, 9:30 PM  

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