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February 20, 2014 7:48 pm

IDF Intelligence Unit Using Soldiers With Autism Produces Stellar Results

avatar by Gidon Ben-zvi

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IDF Central Command Center. Photo: IDF.

The Israeli Defense Force achieved a series of operational successes in recent years thanks to a group of soldiers with autism who contributed their unique abilities to Intelligence Unit 9900, Israel’s Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.

The Israeli Satellite Intelligence Unit provides essential information used by the military to execute highly complicated operations. This data is gathered using satellites orbiting Earth, high above the combat arena. In addition to satellites, Unit 9900 uses manned and unmanned aircraft, and advanced sensors.

The autistic young men and women who serve in Unit 9900 can sit for hours  in front of electronic maps spotting the minutest changes, Channel 10 said. This is a rare ability that eludes most non-autistic soldiers.

Mossad chief Tamir Pardo is credited with initiating the program aimed at integrating Israel’s autistic population into the country’s military apparatus.

Soldiers who fall within the autistic spectrum must first complete a special course before joining Unit 9900, Channel 10 said. During the training, young men and women learn how to decipher maps and aerial photographs. Through the course, the soldiers also achieve greater independence as they learn to execute basic but essential tasks such as riding the bus to and from base.

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  • Oliver Christina

    I am a Portuguese software engineer who received an asperger diagnosis. I work abroad as Sw designer. It is with an enormous joy that I see this news. Israel has always been an inspiration for me. Because I fail to properly relate with other people from a social standpoint I use to read books about Israel extensively. It is my current interest. It was Israel’s achievements under difficult conditions that inspired me to take a cup of chutzpah and go abroad. Whatever I am and have today I owe to israeli people who inspired me to be bold. Shmuli askarov,kahalani,Golda Meir , Meir dagan, Eli Cohen, they are all my heroes. . I was aware that idf had asperger soldiers,wasn’t aware that it was an initiative from current Mossad director though.
    Thanks for inspiring me,israel. Israel and the brave Israeli people will always,always be in my heart

  • mother of an ASD child

    AS a mother of an ASD child I was very happy to see this article which was sent to me by my daughter to show that their are many things that ASD chidren will be capable of doig with the right schooling and help from all of their friends and family.
    Adra you obviously do not have an autistic child or you would be aware of the challenges it represents you would be thrilled to see the opportunities that can exist for your child
    bravo Israel for helping and showing AS individuals that they can be assets to society

  • Diane

    My grandson showed autistic behavior before age two and got very early intensive intervention. By Kindergarten he was mainstreamed and his teachers never questioned his early years because he funtioned as a typical kid his age.
    Now in high school, he’s a straight A student, popular, and athletic. His ability to hyper focus makes him a terrific student, including possessing extremely advanced math skills.
    I believe that the positive aspects of an autistic brain make for his success story.

    • Annette Campbell

      What kind of intensive early intervention did he receive? Please be as specific as you can, my son is in recovery from ASD as well.

      • Liz

        Early intervention can teach the social skills needed to “mask” in wider society, but it isn’t a “cure”. The younger you can catch it, the better the chances are that you have enough time to get the help to teach them all the things some children are born knowing.

        It doesn’t change things like the desire for alone time, or the fundamental personality; it just adds some social reading and emotional coping skills into the mix.

  • James Davis

    Thanks so much for publishing this article. I am often amazed at the brilliance of the Israelis. Their resourcefulness is a great advantage over those who wish them ill.

  • Michael Pordes

    I think is fantastic, exciting and heartwarming all at the same time. This is an amazing and perfect use of God given talent.

    As a former aerial intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force, I,(along with my team members), would sit for hours and hours staring at fresh reconnaissance imagery looking for the smallest of changes – clues, really. We know we were not perfect – sometimes we missed things, and it could have cost lives. It was often long hours 12 on & 12 off, for 30 days straight.

    I have nothing but the greatest respect for the IDF utilizing the talents of people with AS to have that almost perfect “attention to detail” nneded to do the job. Well done

  • Yvonne

    TY Israel for leading the world in understanding the incredible focus, intelligence and unique abilities of AS people…. WE ARE Astounding when people learn the facts about us…

  • Adra

    “Respecting the dignity”?

    No one finds an issue with making these individuals sit in one place for hours and hours at a time, barely exercising their minds? Exploitation

    Just because they “can sit for hours,” doesn’t mean it’s right. I wonder about the repercussions that this article is not mentioning.

    • michelle

      I believe your concern is real but you obviously know little about autism. People with autism ofte sit for hours, staring, and no one makes them do so. The fact that the IDF could put this natural tendency to work in a productive way helps both the IDF in a real way and also uses the strengths these individuals have to offer. Certainly this work is more :meaningful” than some repetitive motion on an assembly line. Intelligence is often a matter of having the necessary skills to be effective in a particular situation. I think this is terrific for everyone, a real win-win situation, and should be highly applauded.

    • Tova

      Dear Adra,

      Please have compassion for these individuals.

      If you had an autistic child, you would feel differently. Maybe you just do not know how challenging it is to raise a child with ASD and participation in this program and others like it are such a huge achievement for their self esteem as young adults who want to become contributing citizens to the State of Israel but have great difficulty doing so.

      This article gives me hope as a parent that my ASD child will also manage to learn skills and contribute to our country as well as feel good about himself because he is like his siblings,friends and neighbors.

      By the way, many young non autistic female soldiers spend their two years of army service looking for hours at radar screens of Israel’s sea, air and land boundaries to make sure that no foreign ship, airplane or armed person enters Israeli space….. Something to thing about!

    • Eric

      The ignorance your comment displays is amazing. Service in Israel is compulsory, that means you reach 18, you are REQUIRED to serve. Finding a dignified way for these Jewish youths who WANT to serve their country and have unique qualifications is simply brilliant. The alternative is to send these soldiers to line companies to learn to fight, shoot, or blow stuff up (you know, the things regular soldiers do). Where do you think these autistic soldiers will perform better…as analysts or in combat? I think this is the definition of “out of the box” thinking and getting the best out of all your troops.

      My main concern here is now that these types of soldiers have been identified publicly, will that make them target for the enemies of Israel who are looking to hamper the capabilities of the IDF?

    • Filip

      “No one finds an issue with making these individuals sit in one place for hours and hours at a time, barely exercising their minds?”

      That’s exactly what happens to me 8 hours a day. It’s called having a job.

      Ask these people if they feel exploited. I believe they’d tell you how proud they are for being able to use their talents, and for being autonomous, and not feel like they’re a burden on their loved ones.

      But then again, you’d probably keep them away from anything as to not “exploit” them.

    • Stuart

      Far more non-autistic IDF members do this job day in and day out. Why do you discriminate.

      • Yvonne

        Please do not speak for AS people…we speak for ourselves.. TY 😛

      • tom

        Any honest labor has dignity. Having worked in several factories has been rewarding and knowing that each job contributed to my countries economy makes it so. Congratulations to anyone who works in any profession.

    • Yvonne

      I disagree… I am autistic.. IQ 155. I can sit also for hours and ultra focus..that is an autistic/aspergers specialty…. its not abuse…we love it… learn about autism before you speak for others who are autistic…. if more people would use AS people’s talents..the world would be an incredible place…

      • ssbluridge

        I agree with those who say it is no more exploitation than asking a non autistic person to go on patrol or a mother to change diapers and wipe snot or a nurse to work overtime.

    • Peggy Swassing

      I am on the autism spectrum – this isn’t exploitation, it is an opportunity for these young people to learn new skills, to serve their country with pride, and to begin adult careers.

  • E

    those of our people with Autism Spectrum have so much to give, on one hand, it is the trademark of the IDF to utilize so much energy, but it is astounding that they have really done this. So many parents wondered with all the struggles they have had with their Spectrum children, what will be with them. It is a unique situation that both the IDF and those with Autism can equally find great opportunity, I’m proud, hopeful, and astounded at the same time.

    • Yvonne

      Hear Hear!!!

  • Zionism is Alchemy. Every day, like Balaam, we reveal supposed “curses” as blessings, through hard work, ingenuity, and faith in our place in the world.

  • Batyah

    G-d’s weapon, our defense system, and His gift to the world has always been “the Jewish brain!” Amen.

  • jay


    Bravo Israel!!!

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Respect for the dignity of every human being is one of the great hallmarks of the Jewish people. Here is a prime example of this precept put into reality.

    • KJ

      Agreed! Well said!

      • Just a Jew

        I couldn’t have said it better. Bravo Israel!!