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Saturday, January 14, 2023

Autistic Members of the IDF

Joshua Zitser at Business Insider:
Each day, Sgt. I. scours the internet to find elusive intelligence that could help Israel fight its enemies.

He is a web specialist for an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces, focused on open-source research that informs high-level decision-making and can even reach the prime minister's desk.

He is also autistic.

Sgt. I., like some 150 others, isn't in the IDF by chance. He signed up to serve through Ro'im Rachok, a first-of-its-kind program that places autistic people in the military to utilize their valuable skills.

Speaking to Insider from inside HaKirya, the sprawling headquarters of the IDF, he said he was able to cope with long, exhausting intelligence work better than many others and that he was most productive when given to-do lists.

He couldn't elaborate on the specifics of what he does. The IDF and Ro'im Rachok members spoke on the condition that Insider use initials or only their first names, citing the secrecy of their work.

A typical IDF open-source project might involve trawling social media and obscure sites for intel on everything from the effect of sanctions on the Iranian economy to the size of Hezbollah's arsenal.

An IDF minder sat in the meeting room throughout, ready to intervene if Sgt. I. accidentally divulged anything classified.

On occasion, Sgt. I. said, his daily work routine is interrupted by "stimming" — a behavior often associated with autism that can involve repeating words, sounds, or movements to cope with stress.

Sgt. I. tends to flap his hands when he's excited or overwhelmed. "It's an urge, like blinking," he said.

He'd always been taught in special-education settings, so he wasn't self-conscious about doing this before he joined the IDF and started working in an office alongside neurotypical soldiers. "So, yes, I've had to adapt," he said.