The Ro’im Rachok programme, which was co-founded in 2012 by former Defence Ministry Official Tal Vardi and Leora Sali, is a pre-army course designed to harness skills associated with autism and use them vocationally in the army.
The aim of the course is to allow high-functioning young people on the autistic spectrum, who previously would have been made exempt from taking part in compulsory national service, to join a uniquely designed army programme tailored to their needs.
Leora Sali, co-founder of the Ro’im Rachok programme, said: “Being in the army is being part of Israel – and for people who were told ‘you will never be a soldier’, to be able to wear a uniform and gain a rank is such an extraordinary thing”.
Ro’im Rachok, which translates as ‘looking ahead beyond the horizons’, is a three month long course at Ono Academic College, outside Tel Aviv.
The course involves a series of tests and interviews, training to use non-classified aerial maps, and meetings with speech, occupational and emotional therapists to help the recruits adjust to new stresses. The aim is to use their heightened perceptual skills to scan high-resolution satellite images for suspicious objects or movements.
At the end of the course, individuals that are enlisted into the army have the choice to opt out after the end of each year or to fulfil the required terms of service, which are three years for men and two years for women.
The unit enables autistic recruits the opportunity to be involved in a key part of Israeli life. It is also mutually beneficial for the IDF as it provides the military with a chance to use the unique skill set that is associated with autism, such as vast capacity for visual thinking, attention to detail and heightened ability to spot the unfamiliar.
Tal Vardi, co-founder of the Ro’im Rachok programme, stated: “The idea of the programme is to give young adults on the autistic spectrum the opportunity to use their strength for the needs of the security community, and the idea was to use their visual capabilities”.
BBC News recently produced a video report on the programme, which is available to view here.