Blogging Against Aversives 1-14-08

“Look!” Charles Wallace said suddenly. “They’re skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone’s doing it at exactly the same moment.” This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers . . .

. . . Then, all at once, they saw the same thing, and stopped to watch. In front of one of the houses stood a little boy with a ball, and he was bouncing it. But he bounced it rather badly and with no particular rhythm, sometimes dropping it and running after it with awkward, furtive leaps, sometimes throwing it up into the air and trying to catch it. The door of his house opened and out ran one of the mother figures. She looked wildly up and down the street, saw the children and put her hand to her mouth as though to stifle a scream, grabbed the little boy and rushed indoors with him. The ball dropped from his fingers and rolled out into the street.

That’s a quote from one of the best books ever written: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle.

Look what happens to the boy later:

In the room a little boy was bouncing a ball. He was bouncing it in rhythm, and the walls of his little cell seemed to pulse with the rhythm of the ball. And each time the ball bounced he screamed as though he were in pain.

“That’s the little boy we saw this afternoon,” Calvin said sharply, “the little boy who wasn’t bouncing the ball like the others.”

Charles Wallace giggled again. “Yes. Every once in a while there’s a little trouble with cooperation, but it’s easily taken care of. After today he’ll never desire to deviate again.”

What would you say if I told you there was a school that was allowed to do this sort of thing to children? What if I told you that the children it was being done to were mostly children with development difficulties and neurological problems? *whispers* What if I told you that some of these kids never get to leave and they spend their entire lives there, attached by electrodes to a backpack that carries a shock device that so-called teachers and other administrators can use to shock them at will?

What if everything I said was true?

Guess what.

It is. It’s called the Judge Rotenberg Center, and while we don’t let that kind of thing happen to murders, rapists and hardened criminals, we are allowing it to happen to children who often don’t even understand enough of what’s going on around them to consciously disobey.

Most of these students have the disability classification “Emotional Disturbance” with IQ scores that fall in the low average to average range of intelligence. There are also a number of students with the classification of Autism with cognitive abilities falling in the range of mild to profound mental retardation. Many of the students from NYS have diagnoses of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder. A number of students also have histories of abuse and abandonment.

45% of the children at this “school” (a place where no one is taught; they learn via computer screens while a teacher stands at the back, waiting to shock them into submission) are authorized to be shocked.

How many are cured of their bad behaviors using this system?



This “school” has been in place since 1971. That’s 37 years, folks. In that time, 6 kids have died.

From the mouth of Dr. Isreal, the founder, regarding the shock treatment:

“The treatment is so powerful it’s hard not to use if you have seen how effective it is,” he says quietly. “It’s brief. It’s painful. But there are no side effects. It’s two seconds of discomfort.” His tone is neither defensive nor apologetic; rather, it’s perfectly calm, almost soothing. It’s the sort of demeanor a mother might find comforting if she were about to hand over her child.

In the article I linked to, it discusses cases of 2 severely autistic girls who came to the center back in the 70’s and early 80’s. They were both showing self-injuring behaviors; one banging her head against the wall repeatedly, while it was obvious that the other had pulled out clumps of her own hair.

The after photos of these two girls are astonishing, so says the journalist. One girl is seen smiling and splashing in a pool; the other grins as she sits in a chair at a beauty salon.

However, these two girls are still there. Only now, this is what their lives look like:

“This is Caroline,” one of my escorts says an hour or two 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 couple 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.

There was a report put out in 2006 about the school. It should have been enough to shut the school down. However, parents of the kids at this school, specifically parents who had kids who couldn’t be placed anywhere else, rose up and managed to keep the place open. You can read the report here.

Among the problems issued in the report with the school, here are a few of the more disturbing that were listed:

  • JRC employs a general use of Level III aversive behavioral interventions to students for behaviors that are not aggressive, health dangerous or destructive, such as nagging, swearing and failing to maintain a neat appearance.
  • The education program is organized around the elimination of problem behaviors largely through punishment, including the use of delayed punishment practices.
  • There is limited evidence of comprehensive functional behavioral assessments (FBAs), in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), being conducted at JRC and limited evidence of the collection of data relevant to FBAs.
  • The collateral effects (e.g., increased fear, anxiety or aggression) on students resulting from JRC’s punishment model are not adequately assessed, monitored or addressed.
  • Some students must “earn” meals by not displaying certain behaviors. Otherwise they are “made to throw a predetermined caloric portion of their food into the garbage.”
  • When students enter and leave the school each day, “almost all” are wearing some type of restraints, such as handcuffs or leg shackles.
  • “Students may be restrained”–on a four-point restraint board or chair–“for extensive periods of time (e.g. hours or intermittently for days).”
  • Some students are shocked while strapped to the restraint board.
  • A “majority” of employees “serving as classroom teachers” are “not certified teachers.”
  • Rotenberg’s marketing reps bestow presents on prospective families–“e.g. a gift bag for the family, basketball for the student.”
  • Although the center has described its shock device as “approved” by the FDA in its promotional materials, it “has not been approved.”
  • The facility collects “comprehensive data” on behaviors it seeks to eliminate, but “there was no evidence of the collection of data on replacement or positive behaviors.”
Tell me, for the love of God, that you have a problem with this. Tell me that you don’t support this. Tell me why they can do this to developmentally disturbed children, but aren’t allowed to do it to hardened criminals because of human rights laws.Tell me this makes you sick to your stomach. If it doesn’t, you need to reevaluate where you stand in the world.

Sign the petition to make this stop.

Today is Blogging Against Aversives day. My friends and I felt the need to say something, to try to make a difference. Read their posts on this issue too.

Blogging Against Aversives
Stirring the Pot
The Strangest Alchemy
Big Noise
Andrea’s Buzzing About
Disability Studies, Temple U.
Growing Up With a Disability
Not Dead Yet & Commentary
Running Steps
Biodiverse Resistance
The Furnace of Doubt
Alas, A Blog


~ by lastcrazyhorn on January 14, 2008.

2 Responses to “Blogging Against Aversives 1-14-08”

  1. For an accurate summary of what the Judge Rotenberg Center is really about, please go to

  2. I’m allowing this comment with a response of my own.

    Everything in this post can be traced back to a legitimite source. Everything I’ve said is true. Perhaps everything you’ve said is true. If the two together are true, then I still don’t like it.

    If, somewhere within the two, the truth still exists, then let me ask you another question. Why are these children self-injuring? Has that ever been looked at and questioned? Why not treat the cause as opposed to the behavior? It is possible to figure these things out; I’ve read studies and personal accounts where people have gone to the trouble to figure out the cause of their child’s behavior and self-abuse.

    Nowhere have I seen that angle explored on your website or in any news article.

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