This blog was contributed to by Mizpah Brown-Rich, the co-founder of Joshua’s Gift.
Of all the concerns that parents of autistic children face, a scary encounter with police shouldn’t be one of them. But that’s exactly what Joshua’s parents dealt with, following a walk around the block with their son Joshua to help calm his anxiety.
At the time, Joshua was 17 years old, 6-feet tall, African American, and non-verbal. Joshua interacted with the world around him a little differently than others.
When a neighborhood resident called the police for what they mistook as “suspicious behavior”, the resulting response could have easily escalated into a dangerous situation.
The experience inspired Joshua’s parents to take bold action to help ensure that police, security personnel, and first responders could learn how to identify autistic individuals and respond with skill and compassion.
Joshua’s mother Mizpah Brown-Rich and father Kerry Rich developed CODE JOSHUA — a unique call for emergency assistance that alerts police officers, firefighters, health care workers, and other personnel to respectfully approach and respond to autistic individuals in crisis with sensitivity and caution. The initiative is one of many innovations and services within their non-profit organization Joshua’s Gift, which works to develop a society that invitingly accepts, respects, and includes the autistic community.
According to Autismspectrumnews.org, caregivers report 13% of their autistic children used at least one emergency service in a two-month period, and 20% of autistic children have had encounters with law enforcement officers by the age of 2. By creating an alliance with first responders, CODE JOSHUA drives equal rights, protects and defends our most vulnerable citizens, and preserves individual freedoms.
Cisco’s Connected Black Professionals (CBP) Inclusive Community recognized the power and potential of CODE JOSHUA and the alignment with our social justice action committed to supporting key organizations in shaping social justice policy and driving equal rights. CBP nominated the innovative program for Cisco’s Black Equity Grant program, which awards a total of US$500,000 in cash grants each fiscal year to Black-serving and/or Black-led nonprofit organizations who support social justice and racial equity.
As Curshanda Cusseaux Woods, Black Equity Grant program administrator, puts it, “Joshua’s Gift is a wonderful example of the types of organizations we love to support. They align with our social justice values and have the vision and the know how to institute change. They just needed support from Cisco to further their impact in more communities.”
With Cisco’s funding, support, and community partnership, CODE JOSHUA was established into a robust registry database. Profiles created by the families of autistic individuals detail key information and crisis behaviors to help guide 911 dispatchers in appropriate crisis response. The initiative includes a training program and video resources to train first responders on how to approach with empathy and patience, how to de-escalate the situation by meeting the individuals’ sensory and communication needs, and how to respond without force.
To date, CODE JOSHUA has been launched in police departments in multiple Northern California counties.
Joshua’s mother Mizpah is seeing real impact. “Our CODE JOSHUA training courses are having an impressive impact on the first responders we are training. The program is effectively helping minimize anxiety and eliminate potential harm to our loved ones living with autism and IDD (Intellectual Developmental Disabilities). “By partnering with Cisco, we can leverage their technology and expertise to reach more communities and raise awareness about our autistic citizens. Together, we are making a difference in saving lives and creating a more inclusive and respectful society.”
Learn more about CODE JOSHUA and the Joshua’s Gift organization.