Because of the challenges associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, people living with autism too often find themselves in situations of exclusion and/or isolation. For instance, autistic adults are likely to get exempt from military service in countries where it is mandatory to serve. But the Israeli Army is now proving society that we should not be too quick at labeling autistic people “deficient”. Autistic soldiers’ unique skill sets actually present a strategic advantage as part of Unit 9900 in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and turns out to be extremely valuable to intelligence services.
People living with autism demonstrate superior capacities for visual thinking, which is much needed for aerial analysis. “People with autism often talk about thinking in pictures, rather than categorizing information according to language,” explains Geraldine Dawson, the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. “They tend to think less in a holistic form, they’re integrating lots of pieces into a whole, and they’re much more likely to see the finer details of something,” she says.
Those finer details are Unit 9900’s reason of being. Autistic soldiers decrypt complex satellites images delivered in real time and thus act as eyes on the ground for highly sensitive operations. Through its program Ro’im Rachok (Hebrew for “seeing into the future”), Israel is working on training image analysts-to-be among the network of special needs schools.
Those developments are not only giving hopes to autistic adults who can now dare to dream to being employed and sustain themselves, but it is also promoting a sense belonging and civic integration to the nation as the IDF widely influence the Israeli collective psyche. With new hopes, a whole new life has started for the autism community in Israel.