Special Ed Aversion Therapy

Special Ed Aversion Therapy

Special Ed Aversion Therapy

Public officials and the press have expressed surprise and outrage over the treatment of Special Education students at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts, where misbehaving children are punished with electric shocks to the skin.

It should have been no surprise. The center (named after a judge whose ruling kept the place from losing its license) was founded by psychologist (not an MD) Matthew L. Israel, who studied at Harvard under B.F. Skinner and applies his brand of Behaviorist principles to treatment of children diagnosed with autism, schizophrenia, and most anything else.

The “Skinner Box” (operant conditioning chamber) above summarizes behavioral treatment at the center. Just substitute a child for the rat. Behave appropriately (the rat pushes a lever) and get a reward (food pellets for rats; video game time for kids). Respond inappropriately, get an electric shock. Rats get shocks to their feet from the cage’s grid flooring; children receive two-second skin shocks through remote-controlled devices and electrodes strapped to their bodies. The devices used today are GEDs (“Graduated Electronic Decelerators”).

The District of Columbia has announced that it will withdraw its students from the Judge Rotenberg Center.

More about “aversion therapy” devices in a future post.

5 Responses to “Special Ed Aversion Therapy”

  1. Shocked by Special Ed Aversion Therapy? Not FDA « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] NotionsCapital Ideas on Events and Culture from Washington, DC « Special Ed Aversion Therapy […]

  2. Matthew L. Israel Says:

    For an accurate summary of what the Judge Rotenberg Center is really about, please go to http://www.judgerc.org/responsetoblogs.pdf

  3. Mike Licht Says:

    Dr. Israel, Director of the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), apparently prepared the document he cites after blogs like this one started reacting to articles in the NY Times and elsewhere questioning the practice of the skin-shock Aversion Therapy practiced at JRC.

    For his assertion that a 45 mA shock is like a “hard pinch,” see https://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/shocked-by-special-ed-aversion-therapy-not-fda/

    The only JRC article cited as accepted for publication is forthcoming in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities (hereafter RDD). The RDD website does not describe a blind peer review process, the standard for other journals such as, say, Cognitive Development. Peer review is a necessary procedure in scientific and medical publication; without it, an article is a conjectural essay.

    RDD does not instruct authors to submit multiple copies of manuscripts without author names, as needed for blind peer review; it only asks for one copy of an article abstract. The abstract of the cited article (van Oorsouw, W.M.W.J., et al., Side effects of contingent shock treatment, Research in Developmental Disabilities [2007], doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2007.08.005) is simply not supported by the concluding paragraph of the article itself. See http://www.judgerc.org/SideEffectsContingent.pdf If you like this sort of thing, be sure to read the “Discussion” on page 10 and ask yourself if a short-baseline study of nine children with so many uncontrolled variables is worth the paper or pixels.

    If no one in the blogosphere can confirm or deny the review practices of RDD in the next week or so I will contact the editorial board for confirmation, but I find it hard to believe that a serious research journal would not publish a stage of its review process on its own web site.

    Other clinicians practice Aversion Therapy without inflicting pain through skin electric shock — see the next post.

    Perhaps the continued existence of this questionable treatment option is due to the emotional impact of parental desperation on authorities rather than any special measure of effectiveness. The absence of controlled studies comparing skin-shock treatment with other forms of Aversion Therapy certainly suggests it.

  4. Shocks from Santa and JRC Footnotes « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] posts on the Judge Rotenberg Center may be found here and […]

  5. Special Education and Uncomfortable Truths « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] education techniques” such as electrical shocks to the skin. The law is aimed at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Massachusetts, a residential facility where Washington students have been sent at an annual […]

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