Susan's Blog

Monday, December 17, 2007

Something’s Roten in the State of Massachusetts

Please tell me how it is that Massachusetts, on of the most cutting-edge states in terms of educational progress, can still allow a place like the Judge Rotenberg Center to exist? What is the justification for a school that uses electroshock therapy as well as food deprivation and other forms of punishment, in this day and age? The Boston Globe thinks they know. But the Boston Globe has often gotten things wrong when they tried to take on Special Education. I am remembering, of course, former Globe reporter Kate Zernike’s horrible attack on Special Education several years back, which coincided with the State House gutting Chapter 766, the Massachusetts Special Education Law.

This time, the justification for severity, i.e., aversive therapy, is the children themselves. For they have autism, MR, ADD. Ah, so that is supposed to explain it for us all. We’ve seen the Autism Speaks film, after all. We’ve seen the Ransom Notes. We’ve watched St. Elsewhere, and seen the Wild Child depicted again and again. And, well, the parents and the schools who referred the children to the Judge Rotenberg Center just could not handle the kids. So they get placed in a school that uses electric shock to the skin and other forms of painful punishment, in order to “treat” their challenging behaviors.

Newsflash to the Globe and the JRC: if a child is gouging at his own eyes, biting himself, banging his head, as some of these JRC students were reported as doing, there is a reason for their behavior. This is a person, first and foremost, so you can be sure that people do not hurt and scream for no reason. But — a person who cannot communicate in the typical manners, a person with over-the-top sensory issues, a person who might have chronic stomach pain from an intestinal disorder that was undiagnosed because the person has autism — those people might have to scream to relieve their frustration and make their own pain stop. The specialists should be doing everything they can to find out why they are doing what they are doing, just as we do with cholicky babies. We don’t hurt them or even let them cry for long. We all know that physical punishment is wrong, inhumane, and does not even work. And yet, many autism specialists throw up their hands and say, “use behavioral methods,” or “Do what works.” Is the behavior something that calls for behavioral strategies, or is it something else? And is there ever a justification for aversive therapy? I cannot imagine there would be.

There is no justification. There is always a way to connect and help. Teachers have to stop and regroup. They have to keep going in and trying. They have to Do No Harm. That slogan doesn’t change just because one is autistic.


Susan, JRC was an exhibitor at the Long Island Autism Conference. I marched right up to them and asked (in my sweetest “You have no idea I am a rabid blogger biomed Mom” voice) “Could you please explain your center to me?”

The man was very pleasant and showed me many charts and graphs about how the incidents of self-injury dropped precipitously after just one (!) or two (!) or three (!) “interventions.” They had a bowl of candy on their table. I was tempted to vomit into it.

By the way, my Dad used to golf with Ernie Rotenberg in Attleboro back in the 60’s and 70’s and guess what? The good judge used a “foot wedge.” (Remember Judge Smails from Caddy Shack? Same thing.)

I realize parents may be at wits end with children who injure themselves and their sibs and Mom and Dad too. But my God, what’s next? Waterboarding for their own good? I didn’t bother to ask about diet or supplements or medical care. I assume these kids are also drugged to the max. I just walked away. Shame those poor kids can not do the same.


— added by Kim Rossi Stagliano on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Oh! One more thing. I just got an alert from a CT group about a petition by Derrick Jeffries, a professor in Delware with Aspergers. Do you know of him?

And I ran a piece on, although I know not all of your readers will want to visit our site so I provided the link right to the article:

I don’t walk the walk of the parents who resort to sending their kids there. I can’t judge them. But I can judge the “Judge” for their services, right?

OK, I’m really leaving now.

— added by Kim Rossi Stagliano on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 8:30 pm

Kim S. I love reading your stuff. 🙂 Had to say that…

What absolutely kills me about the JRC, other than the obvious, is that if these “interventions” were performed on NT children for “bad” behavior, the public outcry would be deafening. However, because autistic people are still treated as and viewed as somehow less than human by our society, torturing and abusing them is allowed.

Bradley Bernstein’s parents sued to shock their own adult child with a cattle prod, for heaven’s sake…it’s a societal sickness.

— added by ASDmomNC on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 8:57 pm

Teachers can not cure mercury poisoning. Neurodiversity is responsible for the JRC. If they stopped blogging against curing children, all the kids would be cured and the JRC would go out of business.

— added by Foresam on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 9:49 pm

Foresam — I don’t see a connection at all between Neurodiversity – tolerance and acceptance of different neuro wiring — and the aversives used to crush the autistic behavior out of a person. If anything, Neurodiversity would speak out against aversives and in favor of trying to come to terms with autistic behavior, or at least to educate the autistic person in more effective communication skills. It is true, however, that eaching doesn’t cure; it teaches adaptation and working with what one has to build more knowledge.

— added by Susan Senator on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 10:14 pm

Just unimaginable … unacceptable that anyone would ever consider it appropriate to do this to another human being. 🙁

— added by Judith on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 10:15 pm

I read about that place in Mother Jones a few months ago. It struck me so much I kept the magazine. I was going to talk to you about it but I thought it might upset you if you knew about it – I don’t know, I just figured it didn’t make for good conversation.

That place needs to be closed. What they are doing is as evil as what Blackwater is doing in Iraq.

— added by Shannon Brooke Davis on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 10:27 am

Being a person who regularly feels the need to get up out of his desk chair and stretch his legs, and who has also writhed around in bed just being uncomfortable in his own skin, I also am disgusted at the treatment of ‘inmates’ at that school. Sometimes getting the right medication can help, but I doubt that the proponents of shock treatment are objective enough to work through any alternative to what they have already made a decision to see as the best treatment in their own mind. It’s very similar in my opinion, to the unrelenting and goalpost shifting of the previous (current?) ‘it’s all the mercury crowd.’

Susan is right in my opinion, there is a reason for most of the troubling behavior, whether it is sensory overload, deprivation, or other undiagnosed conditions.

Sometimes getting the right medication can help.

— added by Patrick on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 1:35 pm

JRC could only exist in a state like Massachusetts from what I have heard from other parents. It’s not much better in some of the other centers. In Mass. use of the “padded time out rooms” without use of proper proactive strategies, behavior plans or figuring out what is causing the behaviors in the first place seems to be common. Recently a center in Mass. had many complaints filed against them with the DOE for use of improper restraints. Untrained therapists were just putting kids in unapproved time out rooms for extended periods of time with no real plan. Massachusetts is a joke when it comes to educating kids on the spectrum and any other state would have shut JRC and some of these other centers down long ago.

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 6:28 pm

JRC used to be called BRI, Behavioral Research Center and was based in Rhode Island. The MA DMR Commissioner at the time made a unilateral edict that DMR would no longer refer people to BRI. BRI took DMR to court and WON. They then renamed the hell-hole Judge Rotenberg Center after the Judge, Judge Rotenberg who had found in their favor. Disgusting yes, but even more disgusting is that JRC is alive and well and employing the same barbaric techniques which should be outlawed.

— added by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 8:05 am

Edited to say: BRI was Behavorial Research Insitute, not Center.

— added by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 12:42 pm

There is no excuse for torture.

I thought electric shocks were abandoned a long time ago as an ineffective and cruel treatment to mental health patients. It’s apalling to see the Boston Globe defending the JRC practices.

— added by Another Autism Mom on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 1:06 pm

The recent prank incident is being covered by sources like USA Today, Fox News, and the Associated Press, which means that now is the time to contact the governor:

Deval Patrick at 617-725-4005 out of state or 888-870-7770 in state.

— added by Anonymous on Saturday, December 22, 2007 at 2:12 pm

This comment was left by someone on a Youtube video newsclip (regarding the Judge Rotenberg Center) a while back. The DOE and the Governor should stop looking the other way and admit that other centers in Massachusetts, in addition to Judge Rotenberg, may not be treating the children the way they “claim” they are. What a disgraceful state.

tbmitwww (3 months ago) Reply JRC isn’t the only MA school doing a disservice to autistic children. You should talk to some parents who’ve sent their child to RCS Learning Center in Natick.

— added by Anonymous on Saturday, December 22, 2007 at 5:00 pm

It’s very scary that the DOE in Mass. considers what goes on in places like Rotenberg (as well as some of the others, an education for the most vulnerable children. When will the state expect more for the kids? What is accepted now as an “education” is nothing more than babysitting in many cases. As one parent stated to me, much of what goes on in these centers is not ABA (as in Applied Behavior Analysis) but rather ABA (as in Applied Babysitting Analysis!) Thought that summed it up well.

— added by Anonymous on Friday, December 28, 2007 at 10:16 am

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