Autism in the Air Cadets

Hi all,

I’m a Cpl and I’ve been in the corps actively for just over 6 years now. I’ve been to national choir, sport at all levels other than corps, I’ve got a load of badges and the list goes on.

Yet I just can’t seem to get promoted, I’ve asked why and the first reason was “I’m not doing enough for the squadron”. This was not true as I was teaching classes, hosting a project and there isn’t a single charity event or recruitment drive I haven’t been too.

I changed and asked the same question later on “you are hesitant at drill”. I again have been in the corps for 6 years and drill is not something I’m bad at however I went on NCO courses both junior and senior in order to prove that I can do drill however still no promotion.

there is more but basically I’m always given an excuse for why I’m not being promoted past Cpl, I make a change and then don’t get promoted regardless.

There are plenty of people in my squadron, I’ve been passed over for promotion for other people who don’t do as much as me and I’m starting to think its because I’m autistic… It’s obviously impossible to prove that this is the case but I entirely believe it’s because I’m autistic.

I am however a very high functioning autistic and this lack of promotion (even though it shouldn’t) is ruining my cadet career, I’m actually approaching depression from it as I feel under appreciated, fought against, not good enough and so on.

How do I approach this problem?

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As tough as it is, you’ll first have to realise that promotion is not a right. Some people won’t get promoted.

As you say it’s difficult to prove discrimination based in autism. If you feel that strongly and it’s causing you that many issues, leave it transfer if possible. The organisation isn’t worth getting ill over.



Of course promotion isn’t a right, I believe that much but what I’m saying is I feel I’ve earned a promotion (not to contradict myself at all).

Thank you for your advise.

Unfortunately in this case your opinion is largely irrelevant. The only person whose opinion counts is your OC, so regardless of whether you think you deserve it or not they’re the ones who matter.

Ask yourself this: why does it mean so much to you? What does being promoted actually mean for you, and why do you want it so much?


I am aware it is at the OC’s discretion on whom gets promoted that’s why I talk to him specifically on why it hasn’t happened (among other staff members).

I know why it means so much, I want to prove myself and the higher in the rank chain you get the more responsibility you have, I want to do more for the cadets and I am being stopped because of my rank.

Being promoted for me means I can do more for my cadets and give them an awesome time in the corps (as it should be), it also means equity as I am finally being given the chance other people have who don’t have my disability, again more responsibility and trust, being promoted gives someone a huge sense of self worth and in general I just want to do more but again can’t because of rank.

I want it for the same reason most cadets do, its self worth, it shows that someone else believes you can do more, I again have put a lot into the squadron and even though promotion is not a right I feel as when a cadet has earned it they should be given it.

I’m probably not making the best argument for my case but a similar problem has been brought up to me several times by different autistic cadets from all over the place and it does seem to be a lack of understanding towards cadets with disabilities and their needs. I don’t want to say “hate crime” as again there is no way to prove that any of these cadets including me are being held back because of that.

Would you suggest I do a lesson on autism and how to help a cadet with autism, present it to staff and cadets in order to increase understanding?

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As you well know autism affects people in different ways.
I don’t know you and can’t comment on your actual case too much.
I am sure your OC will know that you are a good cadet but sometimes you need to realise being an NCO is not for everyone. So keep being involved in the sqn get the most out of it as whe the day comes you are promoted you will get a which of what is then expected of you :+1:

Unfortunately, as tough as it is, sometimes promotion just won’t happen, and it can be down to a huge amount of reasons. What is important though, is that you don’t make yourself ill over it.

As you’ve been in the Corps for over 6 years now, you’ll be getting close to ageing out. Have you had a discussion with your OC about returning as a member of staff? Maybe it’s time to focus on going forward as staff rather than chasing a promotion that may or may not happen for whatever reason.

How old are you?

If you’re not a Cpl and been in for 6 years, you must be a staff cadet and your CO must think highly of you and worked the oracle to keep you in without rank, given the Corps tick list for over 18s.

If the reason behind not promoting you is due to aspects your condition, I imagine your CO wonders how to broach it with you, without lining him/herself up for a E&D complaint. It might be an idea to ask your parents to speak to him/her so as to get to a proper reason, as it does seem in other circumstances you would be promoted. I’d have already spoken to your parents were I your CO.

I’ve had a number of cadets on the squadrons I’ve been on, on the ASD spectrum and while perfectly good cadets in terms of involvement, their social / interpersonal skillset has been problematic, when it comes to promoting them.


I’m 19 in 6 months and it took me 4 years to get Cpl.

I’ve taken in medical documentation regarding my condition and I live by myself away from my parent by a good few 100 miles but I’ll try get them to phone my CO to describe my condition more thoroughly (encase my medical documents didn’t say enough).

With ASD social skills are the main problem due to the effect on the brain the condition has (there is a page which shows the difference between an autistic brain and a normal one). I myself can say I struggle with some social aspects but mainly just push myself out of my comfort zone anyway so most people are quite surprised when I say I have autism. The thing to remember with autism (I’ve seen a couple of your posts on the subject) is as well as high functioning being non - obvious it does make a person different biologically which in turn has these effects on their social skills (it’s why most people with autism also develop social anxiety).

Thank you for your advice.

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Thank you for your advice,

Many of my peers regard me as NCO material but I know it falls to me OC and what he thinks I’m capable of doing.

As for appreciation my OC pushes me to do a lot but never gives praise for any of it and just tells me where I went wrong. As you can imagine this is upsetting getting “constructive criticism” all the time for work I put a lot of time and effort into.

I’ll keep asking but it feels like a waiting game but there isn’t much more that can be done I guess.

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Thank you for your advice,

I understand promotions can be halted for a large amount of reasons such as too many NCO’s and not enough cadets or in general not enough cadets. I’m not trying to make myself ill over it but it’s just something that gradually happens when a person is subject to this sort of thing. With autism you are more at risk of things such as depression from people not understanding you.

I haven’t had that discussion with my OC as I will be going to the RAF when I age out, I’ll be coming back as staff but not till 20 years later haha.

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[quote=“DmCRebelDante, post:5, topic:3359”]
I’m probably not making the best argument for my case but a similar problem has been brought up to me several times by different autistic cadets from all over the place and it does seem to be a lack of understanding towards cadets with disabilities and their needs. I don’t want to say “hate crime” as again there is no way to prove that any of these cadets including me are being held back because of that.
[/quote]Without going too far into such things, it worth noting that whilst not promoting someone simply because they have autism is unreasonable, the outward effects of autism on someone’s personality may make them less promotable.

It does sound like you’re doing the right sort of things, putting yourself forward in ways that take you out of your comfort zone though. Ultimately it may well just come down to getting settled in the NCO role so that you come across in the right way.

Thank you,

I understand that because of the implications autism has on a person that can make them less promotable but sometimes I feel like cadets are being stereotyped as in because a cadet is autistic it is assumed that they have: bad social skills/interpretation, avoiding eye contact and such. When in reality an autistic cadet can appear exactly the same as another non - autistic cadet but because of the assumptions placed on the autistic cadet they get held back whilst their peers get improved, promoted and such.

I feel it is down to a lack of understanding on what autism is and how widely autism varies from person to person. So I’m going to try do a presentation on it for all staff and cadets, furthermore I am going to get my mother to speak to my OC is specifics about my autism in particular (even though I have provided them with medical documentation I understand sometimes that the jargon used can throw someone off).

I hope this has a positive effect and shall update this post in a month or so dependent on the outcome, a positive outcome would mean more understanding (I don’t have to get promoted to show a good outcome but that would be a brucie bonus).


Right my friend. Firstly, if you feel victimised you have the right to have it investigated, ask the CO a direct question as to why you are not being promoted and insist on a direct honest answer. You are 19 + why do you need your parent to speak to the CO for you? NO ONE knows your condition better than you. DO NOT LEAVE until you are ready too, if people are trying to make it difficult for you to stay, inform those further up the chain. These people who are appointed to lead have a duty of care and if their management style is making you ill, they must be held accountable. Remember you are not in the RAF yet, it is only cadets and those around you in authority are setting you a good example of how not to lead, when you yourself become a member of the RAF and maybe in time lead others, you will remember them and do it right. Good luck and keep your chin up.


Thank you,

I understand that I can have it investigated but there would be no evidence as the CO (much like a school teacher when they are being assessed), changes personality dependent on whom is in the building. In all honesty if I was to take it higher up in the chain then it would just be chalked up to I am impatient about promotion and need to take a chill pill.

You’re right that the CO has a duty of care but some follow that rule better than others. I understand I’m a staff cadet but I usually get my parents to talk about my autism for me as I find it to be an upsetting subject as my autism has held me back alot.

Again thank you for your advice.

This isn’t a management or duty of care fail, this, I would hazard a guess, is like so many areas in modern society where the fear of being accused under Equality and Diversity means people are worried about how they word / do things. The default would be promote and be done with it to avoid unpleasantness, but then leaves people open to accusations of things like “they’ve only got it because …” and this applies to a wide spectrum of things. How many cadets who have parents in the Corps who ascend the ranks and no matter how good they are, “they will have only got because their mum/dad is …” and this still applies to the armed forces, especially if relatives are senior officers. It has probably been a more difficult decision not to promote in this situation, because it is a sensitive area. If the OP had not been autistic, the OC would have said in essence tough luck and moved on.

I would say that parents are the best people to speak to, as they will know how to explain it and communicate decisions. Just because someone is over 19 or any age with a diagnosed condition, doesn’t mean they are the best ones to speak to, as they may get too emotional which blocks dialogue.
A couple in our road have a son in Yr11 who is on the spectrum and have attended more meetings than they care to remember and have had to explain decisions. When I spoke to the hubby a few weeks ago, they are steeling themselves for visiting colleges and were at the time waiting for dates for meetings with the college staff to see what support will be available.


Just one comment, and it’s slightly off topic - I notice you said you’ll be going to the RAF - please can I ask that you speak to your local AFCO recruiting team and discuss your future plan with them, as autism is specifically mentioned on the list of “conditions that preclude entry” on the RAF website. One of my cadets was turned down almost as soon as his paperwork landed on the RAF medical officers desk and they saw autistic spectrum on it, and he was devastated, having had it as a life goal since he was very young. He’s not even close to being on the spectrum as far as we were concerned, but they weren’t interested. I’d hate for you to find out the same way he did - and forewarned is forearmed.

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But the fault lies with the RAF. I have known cadets go for a screening interview, come away full of hope and then go back for tests and meds, all excited and find they aren’t suitable on medical grounds that I feel could be covered at the screening. This was my experience.

But I’ve had a sense since, that the CIOs are assessed on the number of people they get put through for testing and an initial screening medical and questionnaire could prevent a lot of wasted time and money, with the caveat of approaching GPs and other professionals if required prior to a decision and a letter sent, WRT suitablility.

Thank you,

I’m aware that it was originally a black band which is why I’m not in the RAF right now however I have been working on getting medical notes from my GP (as I am very highly functioning, most people think I’m lying when I say I’m autistic because I don’t “look it/act it”). ASD is now considered a grey area and is to be assessed on a case to case basis but I am aware they still turn ASD away.

You’re right however forewarned is forearmed.

Hi all,

(Quick update) I went on another SNCO course and I achieved exceed on all of the outcomes. I also have completed my MOI by giving my talk on autism (what it is, why, physical/mental changes and how to help). Still no promotion yet but I at least think my CO now understands what autism is however I’ll have to see if he changes his approach at all to accommodate my needs and the needs of others.

If anyone would like this presentation and the notes that accompany it I’d be happy to post them.