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.”

 

ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Sunday, January 8

Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
Linked articles in bold purple

◆ Positive, human-interest story on medical marijuana, with a moving headline: “I made my autistic son cannabis cookies. They saved him.”

At the time [our 9-year-old son] was consumed by violent rages. He would bang his head, scream for hours and literally eat his shirts. At dinnertime, he threw his plates so forcefully that there was food stuck on the ceiling. He would punch and scratch himself and others, such that people would look at the red streaks on our bodies and ask us, gingerly, if we had cats.

But when I got the cookies right, he calmed down. His aggressions became less ferocious and less frequent. Mealtimes became less fraught. He was able to maintain enough self-composure that he even learned how to ride a bike — despite every expert telling us it would never happen.

It seemed like a miracle. And seven years later, it’s still working. –Marie Myung-Ok Lee (Chicago Tribune, originally in Washington Post)

◆ Democrats want to delay hearings on Trump’s cabinet picks That’s the report in The Hill.

Comment: The political wisdom of the Democrats’ strategy depends on their reasons. If they want essential financial and ethics information, the delay will be seen as justifiable. If there are not substantive reasons, then the Democrats will be seen as obstructionist, part of the swamp Trump promised to drain.

◆ “The stuff that dreams are made of” I just learned that Bogie ad libbed that line. It wasn’t in the script.

◆ Goodbye to two fine men: Nat Hentoff and Mario Soares

◆ Hentoff, aged 91, was a great jazz critic, a fierce defender of free speech, and prolific author. A true mensch.  The NYT obituary is here.

◆ Mario Soares, 92, played a crucial role in Portugal’s transition to democracy after decades of right-wing, authoritarian rule. The BBC calls him the “Father of Portuguese Democracy.”

◆ Putin wins his last round against Obama, says The Economist. Now, they say, he will have to hang on to power with that scapegoat. The story is here.

Comment: We’ll see. Putin is currently jousting with plenty of dragons around the world; perhaps they can serve as scapegoats. Trump clearly wants to shift relations with Russia; that explains his overtures and smooth relations with the Kremlin before he takes office. The question is what will happen to those relations after Trump faces his first crisis with Russia. (Remember, things went smoothly with Ted Cruz, too, until their interests clashed directly.)

◆ Taiwan’s leader is coming to the US, and Beijing is not happy about it. CNBC has the story.

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