(KRON) – You might not immediately recognize that someone is on the autism spectrum. And when some of the behaviors are revealed, you may not understand what’s going on.
Mizpah and Kerry Rich have an autistic son – Joshua. They know that people on the autism spectrum can at times become overstimulated by too many sights and sounds, react erratically, or shut down altogether, particularly in public settings.
“We have to think and plan when we’re going out in public with him because we don’t know what to expect sometimes,” Mizpah said. “Then plan in case he does have a meltdown. We know what that looks like, but for a stranger, they may not understand.”
Many behaviors by someone on the spectrum can easily be misinterpreted. As Joshua grew and his behaviors revealed themselves, Mizpah and Kerry decided to start a nonprofit foundation called Joshua’s Gift. The organization helps families cope and offers support, resources and options for family activities.
But as their son has gotten older, a new concern evolved. Joshua is now 20, but his cognitive ability is age four.
“Having a son, a Black son with autism, raises the level of fear when a stranger makes a call to police who may not be familiar with his behaviors,” Mizpah said.
“We were concerned there could be a real bad outcome for him. So we thought this is an opportunity to educate and develop relationships with first responders,” Kerry said.
That’s why the family recently created a new program called “Code Joshua.” It has two components. The first is reaching out and educating first responders about autism and what it looks like. The Rich’s worked with inclusion films, and with the help of the San Jose Police Department, put together an educational video.
Producer Joey Travolta, a former special education teacher whose nephew was on the autism spectrum, proudly pointed out that people who did lights, camera and sound for the film were on the spectrum.
“A lot of people don’t believe that people on the spectrum can do that,” he said.
Part two of Code Joshua is a family registry system. Families would register with local first responders under “Code Joshua,” deciding what information they want to include, such as a picture and behavior.
“For our son, his stemming is flapping of hands or loud vocalizations, or he may plug his ears or he might run away from an officer and not follow commands because he doesn’t understand the commands,“ Mizpah said.
If Code Joshua is put into action, the process would kick in even before the emergency crews leave the station. Dispatch would send the information right to their computers.
San Francisco Fire is also interested in exploring Code Joshua. ..
“Just imagine they are in a fire building and we’re trying to extricate them out,” said San Francisco Fire Department Captain Mike Day. “With folks on the spectrum, they’re on sensory overload as it is. When we respond to calls, we come in.. lights, siren, often-times wearing gloves. That is just all very overwhelming for those folks”
The Rich family hopes that one day their idea goes nationwide and even grows to encompass other disabilities. If you would like to donate and support Joshua’s Gift, click HERE.