Susan's Blog

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I Just Don’t Get It

Yesterday was the hearing at the State House for the use of aversives in the State of Massachusetts. I could not attend, because of appointments, but The Globe has a front page story about it, with a photo of my very own State Rep. Jeff Sanchez hugging his nephew, who is a Judge Rotenberg Center student, claiming that the JRC saved the boy’s life. The boy’s father reportedly pleaded that if the school is closed, his son goes home and he cannot do that.

I find myself completely stymied by that testimony. I am looking into residential placement for Nat at a behavioral school, but one where they use positive reinforcement, not electric shock therapy. Is that because I have found the right place, the right people, and my State Rep’s family have not? Or is it that the Sanchez’ situation is just so different from mine, that I have no idea? But don’t I? What about my friends, who had had the police to their house several times because they could not handle an aggressive autistic child? Do I know how difficult life can get with the behaviors that can arise with the challenges from severe autism? Or do I not know? I am asking honestly. I hear stories about the most minor infractions that end with a shock, and that these are justified because if you give in an inch the kid will not understand and will take a mile? The article gives as an example a girl who repeatedly pulls her own hair, and how she receives a shock to her hand even if her hand is just “close” to her head. Sometimes a so-called “antecedent” is actually something else. Isn’t anyone concerned about the error that people can make when observing other people’s behaviors? What if the girl had a dry, itchy scalp from the winter weather? Is the staff savvy enough to tell a pull from a scratch?

How can that be the way to do things? By using shock therapy you instill terror in the person; is this what we are reduced to, as a society? Difficulty = simple solution of violence? Ends justify means?

I am also angered by the assumption The Globe makes implicitly about how this shock therapy is somehow preferable to the use of psychotropic medication. Actually, the psychotropic drug Risperdal has had some very good research backing up its uses as a buffer against aggressive behavior, and its major side effect is weight gain, rather than burns or psychological trauma. Why is there so much skepticism about medication use, but not nearly as much skepticism on the part of my Legislature and The Globe about something as patently horrific as electric shock for even the most minor of infractions?

In terms of the incident where two students were shocked and shocked repeatedly, dozens of times, as the result of a prank, the founder of the school Dr. Matthew Israel says in the Globe article that this was his, “9/11.” How terrible for him. What, then, was it like for those burned boys?

I am so sad about this. Why my state Legislature cannot find their ass from their elbow, and ban the use of aversives is beyond me. Some things should not be tolerated. Dr. Israel is wrong and shock therapy should be banned.


Israel’s testimony is very telling. They shock students even before any “infraction” is committed, because they just assume the kid is on to something.

An the thing is, as long as the shocks are allowed, there will be abuse. The whole principle of physical punishment is disturbing, and WRONG.

— added by leila on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 1:49 pm

There’s actually also some pretty good research showing Risperdal not to be good against “behavior problems” in people with developmental disabilities.

(Never mind that “behavior problems” are very poorly-understood by most people not engaging in them.)

— added by Amanda on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 3:12 pm

I just read this article on The Globe’s website. I don’t understand how shocking someone is somehow less traumatic than her pulling her hair out. I’d like to say, “Use it in life-threatening situations only,” kind of like how you might shove your kid out of the way of moving traffic, but there’s so much potential for abuse.

— added by Laura on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 3:13 pm

After Abu Grahib (pardon my spelling) NPR interviewed a professor who did an experiment with his class. He divided the class into two groups, prisoners and guards. The experiment was supposed to last like three days and they had to stop it like 14 hours in because the “guards” got a little rough – with their classmates! That puts a damper on the whole study group idea later on in the semester, doesn’t it? “Yeah, sorry about that whole hood thing…”

The use of adversive therapy in 2008 seems crazazzzy! Where does that end? Thanks for the heads up, Susan.

— added by Lisa on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 4:58 pm

It’s barf worthy. Israel needs to be hooked up to one of those backpacks for a week.

— added by ASDmomNC on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Jeff Sanchez, acting in blatant personal-family conflict of interest, cast the spoiler vote that killed the recent legislative attempt to shut Matthew Israel down.

He’s *your* state rep?!

What can I do to help drive him from office in the next election cycle?

— added by Phil Schwarz on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Everytime I read something about that place, I feel sick.

— added by Rachel on Friday, January 18, 2008 at 2:28 am

i agree with you wholeheartedly, susan! i can’t, for the life of me, understand Israel’s position on this only that it comes from fear and a need to control, to ‘not get any of it on him’ rather than of being commited to the care and education of HUMAN BEINGS.

— added by kyra on Friday, January 18, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Unfortunately when it comes to educating kids on the spectrum we see an industry that is ripe for abuse that attracts some pretty pathetic people who claim to be “experts” and “educators.” Massachusetts is full of them.

— added by Anonymous on Friday, January 18, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Jeff Sanchez is pretty well-backed. He’s the Mayor’s guy. He is all Boston, with just ONE Brookline precinct: mine. It is so rotten. It is part of what the Evil Tom Finneran did when he redistricted: he broke up Brookline so that our representation is very poor now on Beacon Hill.

I’m going to try to do a petition and go to the Governor instead.

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, January 18, 2008 at 10:21 pm

“He’s the Mayor’s guy”

That might be the key. I am quite sure the Mayor does not want to be associated with the irresponsible cruelty emanating from that place that is coming more and more to light. If it is pointed out to him how Sanchez has acted in clear COI, and that that can be made a significant political liability to him, maybe we can convince Mayor Menino that Jeff Sanchez should no longer be “the Mayor’s guy”.

— added by Phil Schwarz on Friday, January 18, 2008 at 11:22 pm

This story makes me sick to my stomach. I cannot believe such cruelly happens in the States. First of all it is cruel to use electric shocks in any circumstances (can you imagine if this would have been done to typical kids -0 even with animals such thing would be considered total abuse- I do not believe that there is no other method of addressing self injurious behavior,)

The opportunity for abuse in this case is huge as demonstrated with the prank call and as known by classis studies on power as the one mentioned in another comment here – i don’t understood how the larger media does not make a bigger deal out of this – a kid was shocked 70 times and they call that place a school – it makes me vomit..

What can we do to make sure this evil place is closed? Instead of harping on autism-vaccines link the media would better cover stories like this.

And only yesterday i have read that the tapes were destroyed –

— added by Mia on Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 5:31 pm

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

— added by Matthew L. Israel on Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 1:12 pm

%d bloggers like this: