W.M.W.J. van Oorsouw(a) M.L. Israel(b) R.E. von Heyn(b) and P.C. Duker(a)
(a)Pluryn Werkenrode Groep (Winckelsteegh) and Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
(b)Judge Rotenberg Center, Canton, MA, USA
Received 20 August 2007; accepted 29 August 2007. Available online 22 October 2007.
In this study, the side effects of contingent shock (CS) treatment were addressed with a group of nine individuals, who showed severe forms of self-injurious behavior (SIB) and aggressive behavior. Side effects were assigned to one of the following four behavior categories; (a) positive verbal and nonverbal utterances, (b) negative verbal and nonverbal utterances, (c) socially appropriate behaviors, and (d) time off work. When treatment was compared to baseline measures, results showed that with all behavior categories, individuals either significantly improved, or did not show any change. Negative side effects failed to be found in this study.
Research in Development Disabilities is a respectable journal with a well respected editor, Professor Johnny L. Matson. Professor Matson also edits Research in Autistic Spectrum Disorders. So I was surprised to see this abstract. I had assumed that Matthew Israel and the Judge Rotenberg Center were beyond the bounds of acceptable practise in psychiatry. Perhaps their reputation has not reached the Netherlands. Just to make sure I have emailed the lead author.
I am a special education teacher in the UK and the parent of an autistic son. I also campaign for rights and services for autistic people and maintain the blog Action for Autism <http://mikestanton.wordpress.com>I was surprised to read of the involvement of the Judge Rotenberg Center in your research, “The side effects of contingent shock treatment.” Are you aware that the JRC is the subject of considerable controversy because of its systematic use of electric shock? See for example this report by the New York State Education Department http://boston.com/news/daily/15/school_report.pdf and this open letter to the American Psychological Association http://canadiansovereignty.wordpress.com/2007/11/01/an-autism-and-mental-health-community-appeal/ Matthew Israel also has a strong financial interest in positive research outcomes for electric shock treatment in his role as proprietor of the JRC, all of which does not inspire confidence in him as an impartial research partner. Perhaps this explains why there were no negative side effects in your study, a truly remarkable outcome for any intervention.
But, surely Professor Matson is familiar with the controversy surrounding JRC? You would expect his journal to take a long hard look at a piece of research supporting electric shock treatment with Matthew Israel’s name on it before accepting it for publication. Yet the entire peer review process was completed in a just over a week. “Received 20 August 2007; accepted 29 August 2007″ I find that remarkable and disturbing.
Shock Tactics is yet another detailed account of the abuse carried out on people at the Judge Rotenberg Center. Over half the inmates at this institution are wired to a device called the GED that delivers painful electric shocks at the push of a button. At one time the use of electric shocks on severely disturbed children was given dubious justification by the life threatening severity of their self injurious behaviour. Better GED than dead as it were. The reporter, Jennifer Gonnerman, gives credence to this when she writes:
Before we set off on our tour of the institution, there’s something Israel wants me to see: Before & After, a home-made movie featuring six of his most severe cases. He has been using some of the same grainy footage for more than two decades, showing it to parents of prospective students as well as reporters. It shows how in 1977, an 11-year-old girl, Caroline, arrives at the school strapped on a stretcher, her head encased in a helmet. Next, free from restraints, she tries to smash her helmeted head against the floor. In 1981 it shows Janine, also 11, who shrieks and slams her head against the ground, a table, the door. Bald spots testify to the severity of her troubles; she’s yanked out so much hair it’s half gone. Compared with these scenes, the “after” footage looks almost unbelievable: Janine splashes in a pool; Caroline grins as she sits in a chair at a beauty salon.
“These are children for whom positive-only procedures did not work, drugs did not work,” says Israel. “And if it wasn’t for this treatment, some of these people would not be alive.” The video is very persuasive: the girls’ self-abuse is so violent and so frightening it almost makes me want to grab a GED remote and push the button myself. Of course, this is precisely the point.
Then she meets two of these “success stories. “
Considering how compelling the after footage is, I am surprised to learn that five of the six children featured in it are still here. “This is Caroline,” one of my escorts says later as we walk down a corridor. Without an introduction, I would not have known. Caroline, 39, slumps forward in a wheelchair, her fists balled up, head covered by a red helmet. “Blow me a kiss, Caroline,” Israel says. She doesn’t respond.
A few minutes later, I meet 36-year-old Janine, who appears in much better shape. She’s not wearing a helmet and has a full head of black hair. She’s also got a backpack on her shoulders and canvas straps hanging from her legs, the telltale sign that electrodes are attached to both calves. For 16 years – nearly half her life – Janine has been hooked up to Israel’s shock device. A few years ago, when the shocks began to lose their effect, the staff switched the devices inside her backpack to the much more painful GED-4.
The Judge Rotenberg Center no longer restricts itself to severely handicapped children who self harm. More “high functioning” individuals with a range of difficulties including ADHD and Bipolar Disorder get the same electric shock ”treatment” for the most trivial “offences” like getting out their seat without permission.
Matthew Israel, the director and founder of the JRC claims to be a behaviourist in the tradition of B. F. Skinner, under whom he studied in the 1950s. He took up the idea of using electric shock from fellow behaviourist Ivor Lovaas. Lovaas no longer uses electric shocks because:
“These people are so used to pain that they can adapt to almost any kind of aversive you give them.”
Israel met the same difficulty. His answer was to turn up the power and use even more painful devices. What I want to know is how long are we going to put up with college educated professors telling us it OK to inflict pain on the most helpless and vulnerable people in society? Even Dr Bernard of the Maudsley Hospital in London is quoted in the article as saying,
It’s terrible to use something like that without clear evidence to show it works.
There have been attempts to close the JRC. But Israel has always relied on the tesimonials of satisfied parents, motivated by the fear that if JRC closes there is nowhere else for their children. It seems that the only criteria for admission is that you have been written off and rejected by everyone else. Once inside your fate is forgotten.
What I find most inexplicable is the support for JRC by ex inmates. Stockholm Syndrome maybe? This is Katie Spartichino:
Katie, 19, tells me she overdosed on pills at nine, spent her early adolescence in and out of psychiatric wards, was hooked up to the GED at 16, and stayed on the device for two years. “This is a great place,” she says. “It took me off all my medicine. I was close to 200lb and I’m 160 now.” But when she first had to wear the electrodes, she says: “I cried. I kind of felt like I was walking on eggshells; I had to watch everything I said. Sometimes a curse word would just come out of my mouth. So being on the GEDs and knowing that swearing was a targeted behaviour where I’d receive a [GED] application, it really got me to think twice before I said something rude.”
The most chilling part of the whole story is one of apparent tenderness.
As Katie speaks, LaChance runs her fingers through Katie’s hair again and again. The gesture is so deliberate it draws my attention. I wonder if it’s just an expression of affection – or something more, like a reward.
To me, LaChance’s action screams of an abusive relationship, Katie allowing herself to be treated like a child by someone who probably inflicted pain on her in the past. And when Katie admits that she sometimes still swears
The hair-stroking stops. LaChance turns to Katie. “I hope you’re not going to tell me you’re aggressive.”
The last time I heard that voice it was Nurse Ratched in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“Oh, no, that’s gone,” Katie says. “No, no, no. The worst thing I do sometimes is me and my mom get into little arguments.”
Poor Katie, still in fear of that voice, still in thrall. And she is one of the lucky ones. She got out.
JUDGE ROTENBERG CENTER – CLOSE IT DOWN!
Derrick Jeffries – Person with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nancy Weiss - Co-Director, The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities, Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware have issued
which I was pleased to sign. The letter begins like this:
“This letter is to the American Psychological Association (hereafter referred to as APA), and to all professionals in the field of psychology. This letter calls upon APA and professionals who adhere to the APA Code of Ethics to act in a manner that is ethical and consistent with that Code of Ethics. Two recent APA documents are relevant to this call to action. They are, the 2006 “Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or punishment” (hereafter referred to as 2006 Resolution), and the 2007 “Reaffirmation of the American Psychological Association Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States Code as “Enemy Combatants”" (hereafter referred to as 2007 Resolution). With fervor, we are advocating for people with autism, developmental differences, and mental health challenges; urgently entreating that they may be given the same respect with regard to human rights as alleged “Enemy Combatants,” or any other human beings. As professionals who adhere to the APA Code of Ethics, nothing less than an unprejudiced stance in this matter should be considered acceptable.
“Currently, children and young adults with autism, developmental differences, and mental health challenges are being treated in a manner that clearly meets the definition of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as defined by the two previously mentioned APA documents. The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (hereafter referred to as JRC) in Massachusetts has a long history of using electric shock, food deprivation and prolonged mechanical restraint, as well as other painful and dehumanizing aversive techniques.”
Please go to http://disabledsoapbox.blogspot.com/ to read the letter in full and add your support. Meanwhile, anyone interested in debating with Matthew Israel should visit the Justice, the independent student newspaper of Brandeis University. Nathan Robinson from Brandeis Students United Against The Judge Rotenberg Center has written an opinion piece about the JRC that has provoked responses from Israel and equally vigorous replies from Nathan and others.
This blog started as an argument against chelation as a therapy for autism. The National Autism Association is a dedicated supporter of chelation therapy. But today I would like to quote one of their press releases in full. The message is so important that I have ignored the temptation to edit out their call for a cure at the bottom.
Rita Shreffler posted this press release on the AUTINET email list. Somehow it never made it onto the NAA website but full marks to NAA and full marks to Rita Shreffler and Wendy Fournier for being the first to sign the petition to end the use of aversives on autistic children.
I would like to think that all in the autism movement, both parents who are seeking a cure and those of us who prefer to celebrate Neurodiversity could unite in opposing the barbaric treatment meted out by the Judge Rotenberg Center. I would like to but sadly if you go to Whose Planet is it Anyway and read this entry
and scroll down to the comments you will encounter a load of bile from Fore Sam, the pseudonym of John Best Jr. Here he is addressing autistic adults who oppose the Judge Rotenberg Center.
If I thought I could have some of you enrolled at JRC, I'd apply for a job pressing the shock button. It might help straighten you out.
If he was just a troll we could ignore him. But John Best Jr is the parent of an autistic child and a Rescue Angel, a member of Generation Rescue whose job it is to visit the parents of autistic children and persuade them to chelate their child.
I hope that NAA publish this press release on their website. I hope they invite Generation Rescue to endorse it. And if GR oblige I sincerely hope that they remove John Best Junior from their list of Rescue Angels. He is not fit to advise parents. He is not fit to be a parent, let alone the parent of an autistic child.
NATIONAL AUTISM ASSOCIATION SPEAKS OUT AGAINST “AVERSIVE THERAPIES” USED ON CHILDREN
“THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY,” SAYS NONPROFIT GROUP
Nixa, MO – In a TimesUnion.com article published last week entitled “Should pain be a part of learning?” writer Rick Carlin touched on a highly controversial collection of aversive therapy methods used on children with neurological disorders such as autism.
Carlin described such methods as “hitting, slapping, pinching, kicking, hurling, using painful or intrusive sprays or inhalants, and withholding sleep, shelter, bedding or bathroom facilities,” and cited facilities such as the Rotenberg Residential Center as utilizing these methods on troubled patients. Also mentioned was electrical shock therapy.
“We can’t allow this to continue,” says Wendy Fournier, President of the National Autism Association. “There has to be a better way of addressing behaviors associated with severe autism and related disorders.”
The national group says regulations need to be in place to prevent aversive therapies. “We’re interested in talking to facilities such as the Rotenberg Center, and are willing to help in any way we can to replace these cruel therapies with something less aversive,” says NAA Executive Director Rita Shreffler. “These children simply cannot be subjected to these methods, and finding a better way should be the priority of these types of treatment centers.”
The article noted new legislation, sponsored by Senator Marty Golden (R-NY), which would ban aversive therapies. “The National Autism Association supports this legislation,” says Fournier. “we’re more than willing to help any political figure ban these inhumane practices.”
To view the article, visit http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=482318&category=CAPITOL&BCCode=HOME&newsdate=5/16/2006.
To sign a petition supporting a ban of these methods, click here http://www.PetitionOnline.com/NYs6876/petition.html
For more information about autism, visit www.nationalautism.org.
Think Autism. Think Cure.