In a Massachussetts courtroom, the Judge Rotenberg Center for special needs children is on trial. Yesterday a video was shown to the jury, exposing an example of electric shock “treatment” utilized by center staff in an attempt to train then 8 year old Andre McCollins to comply with requests from authority figures. Andre was a special needs child. He has refused to take off his coat. He was restrained, face-down, on the floor of a classroom, and given 31 electric shocks over hours of time.
Mother Jones magazine has profiled the center in the past, and the current trial is a civil lawsuit from now 18 year old Andre McCollins and his mother, who had sent him into the school. According to Mother Jones,
The Judge Rotenberg Center is a school for children with autism and other special needs. From their website:
The JUDGE ROTENBERG CENTER (JRC) is a special needs school in Canton, Massachusetts serving ages 3-adult. For 39 years JRC has provided very effective education and treatment to both emotionally disturbed students with conduct, behavior, emotional, and/or psychiatric problems and developmentally delayed students with autistic-like behaviors.
This video and the shocking news reports are getting widespread coverage. This is the first exposure of several generations of people to shock therapy (better known as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT), which has been extremely controversial since it was first used in Europe in the early 1900s.
The last major wave of negative awareness of ECT in the US was in the 1970s. A government investigative panel determined that while the “inducing convulsions to treat psychiatric disorders” part was effective and better than institutionalizing unstable patients, ECT was also being abused by hospital staff as a means of controlling higher maintenance patients. Actor Jack Nicholson brought widespread negative attention to the issue in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, based on a 1962 novel said to be based on real experiences at an Oregon mental institution. Some treatment professionals report that new patients in need of treatments for behavioral or other disorders cite One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest as a reason they fear asking for help from treatment centers and institutions charged with providing help. Most treatment at institutions for the severely mentally ill today is delivered with medication (pills) such as thorazine.
Electric shock therapy is on trial again, the media is having a field day with the shocking videos, and the alleged use as a tool to control non-compliant autistic kids is being compared to torture.
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Update: The school has posted a “Response to Recent Articles and Bog Posts” in PDF form. The text is exposed below. We note that the school admirably describes the context of the trial and the video. However, we must also note that the school appends a sincere effort to discredit former employee Greg Miller, who has been critical of the school. Reasonable human beings know that an employee fighting to keep his job while disagreeing with the policies of his employer is under duress. Agreements signed under duress should be suspect, not held up as fact. This “update” would have beenmore credible without the added demonstration of poor management the addendum seems to represent.
The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) educates and treats the most difficult behaviorally involved students in the nation. Aversive therapy, which includes skin shock treatments with devices such as the GED (graduated electronic decelerator), are incorporated into court-approved treatment plans for students who struggle with violent, abusive or mutilating behaviors toward themselves or others, only after their families have exhausted other therapies, and other residential programs and psychiatric facilities. In many cases, the student’s parents have removed them from previous placements because they spent much of their time physically and mechanically restrained or chemically sedated; in other cases, the students are discharged by these other facilities because they are unable to handle the student’s behaviors.
Most students at JRC do not received aversive therapy. It is only administered when other therapy options have been exhausted and parents petition the court; each case is also reviewed and approved by a Human Rights Committee, a Peer Review Committee, and a physician. There are hundreds of peer reviewed scientific journal articles on the safe and effective use of contingent skin shock, several of which are specific to the treatment success at JRC. We understand the video of a student from 2002 is difficult to watch, and it is no way an example of a normal day at JRC. The video depicts JRC physicians, psychologists and staff attempting to treat the student on a very unusually difficult day. The sole reason the recording exists is because JRC maintains cameras in every room where a student may receive treatment and is the only such facility to do so. This is for the protection of the students in our care and is precisely to enable us to review every application of the GED and to learn from it. Our staff is committed to serving these students, when no other facility can or will, and finding the best ways to manage their behaviors to a level where they are no longer causing severe injury and pain to themselves, can learn, can live in the community and can spend time with their family and friends. It is also important to note that during the court proceedings during which the 2002 tape was played, all of the experts, including the plaintiff’s, agreed that the use of the GED was effective and necessary for certain students and had worked with the student whose family had brought suit.
The Judge Rotenberg Education Center’s former employee, Greg Miller, advocated for aversive treatment during his three years of employment and only changed his position after several suspensions and his ultimate separation from his job. His petition is based on his many false statements, which of course contradict his signed written acknowledgments that he had seen no mistreatment during the three years he worked at JRC. Miller left his employment at JRC after being suspended for poor job performance and sent a letter to JRC begging to keep his job, noting how much he enjoyed working at the school. While working at JRC, Mr. Miller criticized his fellow employees for not using the GED more frequently to treat problematic behavior. He also stated that he had never heard nor seen any treatment that was cruel, inhuman or disrespectful of any student’s human rights, having signed affidavits as a mandated reporter of not being aware “of any rumor, allegation or report” of abuse and attesting to the same.
- Activist magazine Mother Jones latest report, and earlier investigations “School of Shock“
- Article reveals how pressure caused resignation of school founder, prank calls to shock more kids
- Brief History of Electroconvulsive Therapy
- NIH Consensus on Electroconvulsive Therapy (1985)
- One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest movie on IMDB