On April 10th, 2014 the Israeli Defense Force announced that it would continue to recruit individuals on the autism spectrum for a special intelligence unit: http://www.idfblog.com/2014/04/10/autism-idf-meet-soldiers-intelligence-unit-9900/
What a perfect acknowledgement that individuals on the spectrum have the kind of skills necessary to be recruited to an elite intelligence-gathering unit! It is both timely and well-deserved. The particular skill that those running the intelligence unit hoped to capitalize on is well known: it is that individuals with an autism spectrum disorder often have exceptional visual discrimination. They are able to detect the minutest details, the smallest changes, often against a background almost indistinguishable from the target object itself and undetectable by most people. Those working for the intelligence unit analyze visual images from satellites and other air-borne sensors, and the commander of the program notes that their success far exceeds the most optimistic expectations anyone had at the outset. Praise such as this for the skills and strengths of those with an autism spectrum disorder is becoming more commonplace. Nor are such talents such as having fine visual discrimination useful only for examining surveillance images. Web design relies on the same ability, as does scrutinizing web pages to debug software, engaging in computer-aided design, as well as photography and animation. They all require a strong ability to think visually, to be able to critically analyze what one sees. In the STEM program at Village Glen, we support such nascent strengths and talents; we nurture their growth, and guide them to fruition by offering classes in Computer Science and Web Design, in Graphic Design and Digital Modeling, as well as in Art and Animation. The goal is to develop students’ talents and strengths early, to build upon them, and in so doing make them employees of choice for the 21st Century.