Autistic Soldiers Have Special Skills Deciphering Intelligence Photos–and benefit from the chance to use those skills

The Israeli Defense Forces’ Secretive Unit 9900, which specializes in deciphering “visual intelligence,” now has 100 autistic volunteers so far (link here).

The program is working well–for the IDF, for the volunteers on the autism spectrum, and for their fellow soldiers.

The program, dubbed “Seeing Afar,” which is jointly run by the IDF and the Ono Academic College, is now in its fifth year. It includes a training course that teaches autistic youths to decipher aerial and satellite visual-intelligence images, based on their enhanced visual ability and their tendency towards patience, which allow them to explore the minutest details—an essential attribute for this role, an officer from an intelligence unit that received the volunteers has told JNS. –JNS (Jewish News Syndicate)

The job requires people in the unit to search patiently through reams of intelligence images looking, as one soldier said, “for a needle in the haystack.”

Some people on the autism spectrum seem to be especially good at that, and the IDF is integrating them into this specialized unit.

The effect on these recruits themselves seems to be very positive.

“When I first arrived here, I still felt like a civilian,” Cpl. O told JNS in an interview. Gradually, however, he began to feel like an organic part of the military.

“You search and search, and don’t find it at first. Sometimes, it feels like forever until you find it. But when you do, it certainly brings satisfaction,” said Cpl. O. “There were whole days that I couldn’t find what I was looking for. On other days, I’d locate it in every picture—six pictures in a row. On those days, I wanted to look for more! –JNS

The autism-spectrum soldiers think their skills and experience will help them enter the job market when they finish service. And the other soldiers who work with them speak of their positive experiences, with some wanting to work with autism issues after they leave the service.

Thanks to JNS for reporting a fascinating and inspiring story.

Here’s a blue-sky idea that might help these autism-spectrum soldiers when they return to civilian life–and might help doctors and patients in Israel.

Why not a test program to see if these soldiers, with some training, can do the same thing with X-Rays, MRIs, and CAT-Scans??

They have already been screened by the IDF for the general characteristics.

The fact that they stayed in the IDF photo-intelligence unit says that they have the necessary patience and visual acuity in working situations.

I wonder if they would be good at finding cancer nodules, etc.?

If they were, then the screening and training could be used in other countries for people on the spectrum.

Seems like it is worth a try, especially in “Innovation Nation.”