Israel Harnesses Skills of Soldiers on the Autism Spectrum

ABC News has the story:

Pvt. E never thought he’d join the army. As someone on the autism spectrum, he struggled with certain social situations and would get easily distracted. Now, at 19, he is serving in a sensitive intelligence unit in the Israeli military, working in software quality assurance and defying what he and many of those around him thought he could accomplish.

Israel has for decades exempted people on the spectrum from joining the military, a compulsory duty for most Israeli Jews. But in recent years it is increasingly enlisting them, harnessing their special capabilities for certain meticulous tasks and including them in an Israeli rite of passage that can boost their independence and open professional doors.

“It gives me a chance. It gives me education, on-the-job education,” said Pvt. E, whose name could not be published and whose face could not be photographed because he serves in a classified intelligence unit. “It’s a beginning. It’s a very solid beginning.”

Pvt. E. is part of a program called Roim Rachok, or “seeing into the distance,” which provides training and assistance to Israelis on the autism spectrum who wish to enlist in the military. The program’s founders saw the inclusion of people on the spectrum as a way to help usher them into a self-sufficient life once they are discharged.

Until recently, people on the spectrum were largely sidelined from the military, allowed to volunteer but without a proper framework to ease them into the challenges of military life. Roim Rachok, and at least one other program that has sprouted up, is doing just that.

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