April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day. I have been one re-tweeting fool over the last couple of days doing my part to get the word out. But when I retreat back into mommy-hood, I return to the -what ifs and what will happen when- thoughts relating to my own son Elyjah who is autistic. Constant joys and worries take up permanent residence in the mind of a parent who has a child with autism. It depends upon the severity and where the child is on the spectrum of course but in my case, my son has moderate autism. He can speak, be understood and communicate but it is obvious that something wrong when indulging him in a conversation. After the pleasantries and greetings are exchanged with someone, my son will instantly go into how many lines the MARTA, WMATA, BART, SEPTA, DART, and other metro systems have, their destinations and various stops. Most people are indulging and friendly and even impressed that this young man who has only visited a few of these metro systems can know so much about them. He may then proceed to tell the person about the types of trains a particular metro uses (or used) down to the manufacturing series, if its in use, retired, original, rehabilitation or new. I find myself trying to explain to the person or persons that my son is autistic as if they could not tell, but not before he has proceed to name the metro systems in Caracas, Tokyo, Sydney, Istanbul or Toronto. People go on their way with a smile usually and my son goes on his daily echolalia rants of whatever is on his mind.
As my son navigates his way through high school in a contained autism class, we are looking to his future and what will happen to him careerwise. I am hoping that he will become a world reknown artist or singer, but have to realistically train him for independence as much as possible. Federal mandates insure that autistic children receive an appropriate, public education until they are 22 years old. It just worries me to no end to think that far into the future when my son can’t even cross the street without supervision as he simply is unable to process that he must look both ways.
Always thinking about Ely’s future, I was horrified to find that my son must register with Selective Service upon turning 18. Why does my autistic son have to register for Selective Service? I could not imagine why so I had to research. Unless a young man is institutionalized, home bound, or “in such a physical or mental condition that he would not comprehend the nature of his registration with the Selective Service System,” he is required to register with Selective Service. Were not my son autistic, I would be proud for him to serve his country in any branch of the service. But with moderate autism he is unable to think in the abstract. Yes, he can detail metro trains down to the head lights and window frames, but he can’t comprehend why he can’t have PE class with mainstream, general ed kids.
My fear was relieved upon further investigation. Although all males between 18 and 26 must register, in the very unlikely event that young men would ever be called, they would have to appear before a local board to determine eligibility. Big sigh of relief. My son would not meet the physical, mental, and administrative standards established by the US Armed Forces. Detailed information can be found on the Selective Service website. Also the former About.com Autism guide Lisa Jo Rudy states that the only process now in effect is that men between the ages of 18 and 26 register with Selective Service and keep their registration record current during that period. Neither the Military Selective Service Act nor the Presidential proclamation provide an exemption from registration because of a man’s mental or physical condition unless Selective Service is provided with documented evidence that the man is hospitalized or institutionalized, home-bound and unable to function outside the home, with or without physical assistance, or is in such a physical or mental condition that he would not comprehend the nature of his registration with the Selective Service System. A determination is then made by Selective Service as to whether or not the man qualifies for exemption from registration.
Clearly my son would be exempted but I am still don’t like the fact that he has to register. At least that is one less thing that I have to worry about. There are plenty more where that came from believe me. Now on to the business of promoting World Autism Awareness Day. Educate, Celebrate!