Shocked by Special Ed Aversion Therapy? Not FDA

Shocked by Special Ed Aversion Therapy? Not FDA

Articles by Jonetta Rose Barras in the Examiner and coverage in Mother Jones, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Village Voice, ABC News, and the Boston Globe have brought public scrutiny to bear on the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC), a Special Education center that administers shocks to the skin of students as “Aversion Therapy.” Most reporters, columnists and public officials are astounded by this news.

Not so the Food and Drug Administration. Under the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 8, Chapter I, Subchapter H (Medical Devices) Part 882 (Neurological Devices), Subpart F (Neurological Therapeutic Devices) Section 882.5235, Aversive conditioning device (21FCR882.5235) FDA has licensed several electric skin-shock devices.

According to FDA, “An aversive conditioning device is an instrument used to administer an electrical shock or other noxious stimulus to a patient to modify undesirable behavioral characteristics.” For electric shock devices, the “conditioned punisher” hardware consists of electrodes, a shock device coupled with a radio receiver which is strapped to the patient and a transmitter held by the therapist.

The JRC first used the SIBIS (Self Injurious Behavior Inhibiting System device). The model currently used at JRC is the GED (Graduated Electronic Decelerator).

According to the JRC web site:

the GED stimulation (average current of 15.5 mA rms) is substantially stronger than SIBIS (average current 2.02 mA rms). JRC has also developed a stronger version of the GED which we call the GED-4 and which produces a current of 45.0 mA rms. The difference between any two current levels does not translate exactly into the difference in perceived aversiveness, but it is clear that the increased current of the GED makes it more effective than the SIBIS. It also makes the GED-4 more effective than the GED.

The registered manufacturer of the GED brand devices is — surprise — the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, Inc.

The GED-4 device consists of a remote controller for the therapist (the small black square), a “stimulator” that receives the signal from the remote and generates “an immediate skin shock,” a battery pack that supplies power to the stimulator, and cables that run from the stimulator to electrodes strapped to the students’ skin:

GED aversion therapy device

A second electrode design spreads the shock over a wider expanse of skin:

skin spread electrode

If this seems, familiar, it should, especially if you own pets, hunt, or have lived in farm country.

Shock collar for hunting dogs

Shock Collars and anti-bark collars have been a popular though controversial dog-training aid for some time, and the electric livestock fence is common among cattle, horse, and sheep raisers. There are even electrified fences for pets and “invisible pet fences” that use shock collars.

It has been established that in dogs “avoidance learning increased with shocks up to 4.8 mA, with the desire to escape appearing above 5.0 mA intensity.” Bear in mind that the GED-4 device average current is 15.5 mA rms and it can administer shocks as great as 45mA. Use of dog collars on people have resulted in torture convictions.

Dog Collar Torture

7 Responses to “Shocked by Special Ed Aversion Therapy? Not FDA”

  1. dbear Says:

    The New York Times
    Parents Defend School’s Use of Shock Therapy
    New York State officials trying to ban shock treatments have found an obstacle: parents of students given shocks.

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Yes, dbear, I read the article, including these parts:

    Technically, the lowest shock given by Rotenberg is roughly twice what pain researchers have said is tolerable for most humans, said James Eason, a professor of biomedical engineering at Washington and Lee University. The highest shock given by Rotenberg is three times the lowest amount.

    “People don’t use it anymore because they don’t need to. It is not the standard of care. There are alternative procedures that do not involve aversives like electronic shock,” said William Pelham, a behavioral specialist and director of the Center for Children and Families at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “And I am not talking about drugs as an alternative. I am talking about other behavioral treatments.”

  3. Matthew L. Israel Says:

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

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    The document to which Dr. Israel (Director of the Judge Rotenbenberg Center) refers was intended as a rebuttal to questions raised in recent articles in the NY Times and elsewhere questioning the techniques practiced at JRC and nowhere else in the Western World.

    Perhaps Dr. Israel can update this and inform us if any of the JRC-generated research papers cited in his document have been accepted by any peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals.

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

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

  6. Special Education and Uncomfortable Truths « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] prisons that uses this skin-shock technique; the school founder has a proprietary interest in the apparatus used, one that is capable of delivering electrical charges well over the threshold of pain. JRC […]

  7. Jacob Says:

    Regarding what Matthew L. Israel posted January 7, 2008 at 5:57 pm: lol
    i litteraly laghed out load from reading that. I’ve been to JRCs site.
    I found especially interesting. This pic shows “touching of right thumb knuckle” under “HDB (Other):GED, TK”, and it shows “Touch hair” under “HDB (Major):GED, TK”.
    So Mathew Its OK to shock students for touching there hair! wtf I thought electric shocks to humans for anything but SIB (Self Injurous Behavior) was illegal!

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