The IDF aims to recruit 500 soldiers with autism by the end of 2022

After years of being exempt from serving in the Israeli military, the IDF aims to recruit some 500 soldiers on the autism spectrum by the end of next year.

Prospective soldiers will join the military as part of the IDF Manpower Directorate’s Titkadmu program, which aims to incorporate people with all forms of autism into the military.

“Today there are 52 soldiers with autism in the program, and by the end of December we will have 70. By the end of 2022 there will be more than 500,” said Cpt. Udi Heller.

As the highest ranking officer with autism in the IDF, Heller started the program that he says gives hope to the thousands of teens with autism in Israel.

According to Heller, recent years have seen an 18% annual increase in those diagnosed with autism in Israel’s education system: 19,500 children were diagnosed with autism in 2019, 27,300 in 2020, and about 32,000 this year.

And with all the autistic diagnosed in the educational system, “there is no reason why there cannot be between 10,000 and 15,000 soldiers with autism in the military. We want thousands of soldiers with autism to serve in the IDF, it is not an army of just geniuses, ”Heller said.

FRIENDS AND family say goodbye as soldiers enlist in the IDF at the Tel Hashomer Induction Center. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG / FLASH90)

Israel did not recognize autism as a medical disorder for years, and the first time a person diagnosed with autism volunteered with the IDF was in 2006. In addition to Titkadmu, there are currently about 200 people with autism who volunteer at through other organizations and programs such as Ro’im Rachok (Hebrew for “see the future”) that helps students on the spectrum prepare for military service.

Titkadmu creates a special track for autistic volunteers who spend six weeks with specialized mentors who help them integrate into military life and accompany them throughout their service. During the six weeks, the mentors also meet with the families of the cadets to learn more about them.

“This project starts from their draft notice and throughout their service until they are released, even if they remain in the military career and in the reserves,” Heller explained. “It enables them to be successful both in the military and in civilian life, as they receive three to five full years of professional training.”

Many are already excelling in areas once out of reach for those on the spectrum, such as units that require security clearances like Military Intelligence Unit 9900, which deals with intelligence-gathering satellites.

“Thanks to this project, a young man who is a genius entered a unique position that was tailor-made for him in 8200,” Heller said, adding that another high-performance soldier with autism is currently serving in the research division. of Military Intelligence and other A volunteer who does not have a high performance currently works as a technician.

“We know how to give them courses that give them a future with a profession,” he said. “It is a revolution.”

Since the armed forces have changed their drafting and testing procedures for new recruits, “there is no reason they should volunteer to serve,” Heller said, explaining that the new changes make it much easier for those on the spectrum will be recruited and placed. in appropriate roles.

And as more and more people with autism join the military, hopefully many will become officers.

Some argue that the military is the inappropriate environment for those with the disorder, especially those with extreme social or communication problems.

While those on the spectrum tend to need more help in some situations and commanders need to be more aware of their needs, “the military can be very good for them too. They can focus on a topic that they like and excel at. They also really like established schedules and routines, ”Heller explained.

“There are few countries in the world that allow people with autism to volunteer for the military like Israel. There are other countries that don’t even recognize the spectrum and make them serve like other people, ”Heller said, explaining that forcing those on the spectrum to serve can lead to horrible scenarios, such as prison and suicide.

It is up to parents to inform government bodies, such as the ministries of health and education, of their children’s diagnosis, something that many parents have tried to hide in order to allow their children to serve in the IDF.

“There is a lot of negative stigma around autism. And when parents want a “normal” child, they keep the autism diagnosis at home. And then the boy is recruited into the IDF and there are problems while he is in the army. For those who report [their child’s autism], no problems, ”Heller said.

Due to disorder, many were unable to successfully enter the IDF even when they tried. And if they were able to recruit, many times the commanders were the ones who recognized that the soldier is on the spectrum and were able to identify where they can be most successful and even excel.

Heller was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, but since his parents did not notify the ministries of health or education, he was recruited by the IDF like all other 18-year-olds. The beginning of his service was not easy, but he later served under commanders who recognized his potential, he said.

Now you want the potential of thousands of other people on the autism spectrum to reach their potential and succeed in ways that they could only have dreamed of before.

To build the bespoke program, Heller was able to recruit the Division of Personnel Planning and Management in the FDI Human Resources Directorate and met with leading autism experts, social workers and teachers with special needs.

“This project opens doors to thousands of people with autism,” Heller said. “Parents write to me that their son now has a future. Military service in the IDF is a spirit, it is something very important, ”he added.

According to Heller, while it was a man’s dream, “it takes a lot of courage to get this project off the ground, to change the military for those with autism. Not all armies or chiefs of staff would do this. “

“There is discrimination in the community against autism and if there is a way to change the stigma it is to recruit those on the spectrum into the military,” he said. “There is room for everyone in the IDF.”

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