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ABC Nightline To Feature Controversial Shock Treatment at Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts

Shock Watch ABC Nightline Tonight and go to ABC News HERE to learn more. Students at the Judge Rotenberg School in Massachusetts are subjected to electric shocks, with parental knowledge and approval. This school has been part of an ongoing debate on how to manage behavior, treatments for behaviors and the human rights of children. (As an aside, I grew up in Attleboro, Massachusetts and Judge Rotenberg played golf with my father at Highland Country Club. Rumor has it Judge Ernie played about as honestly as Judge Smails in CaddyShack. KS)

MDRI to be featured on ABC Nightline scheduled to air tonight

MDRI documents torture against children and adults with disabilities living at a Massachusetts residential school and files “urgent appeal” to United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture

Washington, DC – June 30, 2010 - Mental Disability Rights International’s (MDRI) latest report and “urgent appeal” to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, to demand the United States government end the torture of people with disabilities immediately, will be the topic of tonight’s ABC Nightline.Torture not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), documents the use of electric shocks on the legs, arms, torsos and soles of feet of children and adults with disabilities – for weeks, months and sometimes years. JRC uses punishments as treatment and US advocates have been trying for decades to close the school and end these practices.

Nightline host, Cynthia McFadden, interviewed MDRI Executive Director Eric Rosenthal, JD and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak for the piece.

Laurie Ahern, President of MDRI and author of the report, states, “The cruelty perpetrated against children and adults at JRC is psychological and physical abuse, couched in the name of ‘treatment.’ The severe pain and suffering leveled against residents there violates the United Nations Convention against Torture.”

MDRI is an international human rights organization dedicated to the rights protection and full participation in society of people with disabilities worldwide.

ABC Nightline airs at 11:30 pm EST, following your local news. Be sure and check your local listings.

Thank you to Derrick Jeffries for keeping us informed.


Sadistic streak?

It boggles my mind that this guy Israel justifies the shock treatment by saying that the ONLY other alternative is drugs. Is he living in the dark ages? I guess if the kids started doing other treatments to get better, nobody would come to his meat factory.


And who can forget a couple years ago when this sickening school and it's staff were investigated for shocking students more than 77 times as a prank. Apparently they have destroyed the video taped evidence. It is unbelievable that Mass. continues to allow this school to exist. The parents who claim this place is wonderful must agree that abuse is perfectly fine.


Here's a very detailed article on the JRC, including the number of children who have died there, including a 12 year old who was shocked roughly 5,000 times a day (before they upped the voltage in 1990).

"...JRC has always believed in punishing not only the negative behavior, but also the actions that presage it: A face-slapper could be shocked for simply raising his hand. This is called "treating the antecedent." A lot of things can be antecedents at JRC: yelling, refusing a teacher's order, talking out of turn...

...One student was shocked for stopping work for more than 20 seconds. A second, a girl with cerebral palsy, was shocked for moaning and reaching out to hold a staffer's hand. A third was shocked for closing his eyes for more than five seconds. A fourth was shocked for urinating in her pants; Miller says she'd asked for over two hours to go to the bathroom. A fifth was shocked because he yelled when he saw another student about to be shocked.

...Miller says this last scenario played out all the time. He remembers a staffer warning him to always announce to the class when he planned to reach for something in his pocket. The one time he didn't, the four kids he was walking to the bathroom screamed. "All of these behaviors had to be consequated with a GED electric shock," Miller says. "There were no exceptions—a scream was a scream, a grab was a grab, and we had to follow court-approved orders." And if they didn't: "Staff would get evaluated, and might even lose their jobs."

...What pained Miller, made him physically ill, was the anxiety on a student's face the moment before it happened. One with the initials C.L. gave out a high-pitched "No, no, no" and then tried to keep his mouth closed to avoid subsequent punishment. J.G.'s voice escalated to a squeak while speaking quickly in Spanish. A.T., by contrast, was strangely emotionless during the shock, but shortly thereafter would moan, quietly, to himself...

...Every hour, staffers must rotate the electrodes so they don't burn the skin. (Though the school denies the GED injures students, Greg Miller says burns happened often enough that JRC staff had a name for a student going off the machine so his skin could heal: a "GED holiday.")

We can't do better than THIS?


Karen - $100k/year is not an appalling "tuition" amount for a 365/24 residential treatment facility. Our insurance-paid for 40 hour/week ABA program costs more than this. I'm just sayin'...

The comments I am reading here on this place are amazing. If you do any google search on the JRC and skim other reader comments, it sounds just like this. *Parents* defending the JRC with all their might. We are truly in a scary, evil place.


I find this sickening that parents and professionals would resort to shocking children and adults with autism. Perhaps if these children had positive behavior support (that was implemented correctly) when they were younger, their behaviors would not be so severe.

I also agree with the post that there are often reasons for behavior - communication, overstimulation, etc. Positive behavior support takes time but does work. Behavior modification needs to be done consistently and correctly by every person who is in contact with the child. Often this does not happen and/or negative behaviors are reinforced, and then the negative behaviors increase.

As a parent, I have been there when my child had severe behaviors, and through consistency with a behavior plan, the behaviors decreased and/or are eliminated. I also know other children with severe behaviors when given positive behavior support who have had the same outcome. No shocking needed!

In my opinion, there is never a justifiable reason for shocking (basically torturing) a child with autism. We don't even torture criminals in this manner. So how is it acceptable that we treat these children with autism like animals with shock treatment? I find it barbaric no matter what results they claim. I am sure if you shocked me everyday, you could modify my behavior too to do whatever you wanted. Very sad story.


It has been proven that the kids learn when the shocks are going to be delivered and they just work around the system with their behaviors. This is inhumane and not an effective solution to behavior probems. Any decent BCBA will tell you that. No one is looking at the "why" of behaviors at these schools but rather just consequating them. Bad ABA is what goes on in JRC and NECC. Stupid parents sell their children to these two institutions willingly.


I would like to see all of you parents using this type of treatment on their child to line up right next to them and do it to themselves and see how they feel and turn out. How can anyone think that electricity the one thing we cover up for the fear of our infants and toddlers being injured by is OK to do to these kids. I AM JUST SICKENED BY THIS. I am a parent of a child with Autism and behavior issues and would never even think of doing something like this. Deal with it is what you need to do they are human's who need your love and support not torture just because you can't handle it, or don't want to handle it. YOU ARE SICK PEOPLE.


Allie90-I live in Massachusetts. You would be surprised at the number of ignorant parents here who are brainwashed by JRC as well as NECC and are happy to have their kids shocked, restrained and drugged. It is sickening.


Okay thousands of parents have been able to treat their children biomedically, homeopathically, detox, etc. And their children have made great improvements. If parents are figuring this out, what about the rest of these so called schools for children and the professional staff? Can they not read and research? Or only read and research the latest new spin of Anti Pyschotic medications, and continue to use Electric shock.
If you were sick and in pain, and you were contiinually shocked for your behavior. Eventually parts of your soul would shut down, and become more like a zombie. Electric shock is like spanking and we have heard for years from research what spanking does over time to children.
Why is MA lagging behind in this area of understanding the true underlying reasons of autism?

What happens to these kids when they grow up and leave JRC?
I bet those same behaviors remerge only worse over time.
The name of the school tells it all, rotten for sure!!!


Cathy how sad for your son that you and your "25 years behind the times" state of NH think this is good treatment. If he had received proper ABA treatment from the beginning, which NH is clueless to and too cheap to implement (I know of many cases there), then maybe he woudn't have been a candidate for JRC.


Creating another "Snake Pit" shock treatments were proven useless in the 60's. We need not repeat history.


I didn't watch this because my guess is the spin will be that torturing children with electricity is ok. Yuck, when did we become nazi Germany. Sick!

When my dog was a puppy she was constantly jumping over our fence and wandering the neighborhood. She's a big dog and scared the crap out of my neighbors. She was the friendliest smartest dog you ever saw. Well, my husband bought a shock collar and shocked her once when she jumped over the fence. She never jumped over our fence again but she's a DUMB and scared dog now 9 years later. She was only shocked once at a low level and she's permanently harmed. No living creature should ever be shocked.


And let's not forget where many children who attend JRC are sent from- The New England Center For Children as a past commenter pointed out:

"Though I've met parents who have their children at the school who opt out of drug treatment, NECC pushes and prescribes antipsychotics and other drugs routinely. And when the children don't improve from the Skittles reinforcements and Risperdal regimen, the center has referred the failures to the Judge Rotenberg "shock" Center (page 3 of JRC's own "executive summary" on some of NECC's referrals: ; then go to page 7 for details of NECC students being drugged and restrained up to 70 times per week ).

JRC is the repository for children so drug damaged that they'd die if they took another pill but who's behavior has become so problematic that no other institution will take them. I view places like NECC as a kind of "feeding tube" for places like JRC, both because NECC exerts its considerable influence in preventing further research on environmental cause and because of its practices. So much for NECC's "positives only" philosophy if they drug and restrain to this degree and if the end result is landing at JRC. Positives only is a mischaracterization."

The kids are nothing but data and guinea pigs to the scum who run these places.


If it ain't broke don't fix it. Apparently the children attending this school are receiving treatment, not torture. I live in NH and asked repeatedly for my son to be sent there. By age 6 he had been diagnosed with ADHD AND ODD. I was opposed to medicating him and he was beyond management. He went in and out of treatment center, juvenile detention centers, and now at 18 he has entered the adult judicial system. My son needed a place like this at crucial points in his life, he had out of district placements, but my school district was not willing to spend the money for probably the only thing that would work. I first learned of this place from a therapist who told me it was the only treatment center that he actually was able to see lasting and meaningful results. I wish my son had had access to this treatment. Calling this torture is down right ludicrous. Anyone with a problem with a place like this should try dealing with a child that nothing has worked for.


karen said
And WTF is that $100K paying for? Has the cost of *electricity* gone way way up in MA lately?
My Humble Answer;
These schools have tremendous expenses, they have 3 shifts a day of staff, these are residential schools that have to get each kid up, dressed, cleansed day after day. then there is the teaching staff and an afternoon shift.
I will bet the students are cleaner than your autistic child at home, if you have one. If not you can not really imagine the staff that is needed and needs to be paid.

Dee Courtwright

I think that if this is the route you take for your child...the last've done it all (doubt it), and tried it all - then you should join them in the glory of the shock treatments just the same!
I purposely felt conviction to become GFCFSF with my son, and even I feel a lot better. This is how treatment SHOULD feel. Relief for us both, especially his self injuring, which is on video. Poof! Gone.
There are several studies in Psych Wards done with the removal of gluten, and those with schizophrenia have improved symptoms. Those of you with older children with ASD and mental illnesses must truly accept encouragement and NOT give up hope! Darnit.

Karen McDowell

"As a parent of an autistic child I can imagine cases where this is the better option. If this helps permanently improve behavior and prevents harm from long term prescribed drug use it may be the best option. Remember, the drugs currently used to control behavior are not harmless."

Really? I have news for you. This isn't treatment. It's torture. Torture "works." That's why the former administration defended its use on terrorists. I'm floored that a significant number of people in this country -- including our leaders -- can express outrage when it comes to torturing our enemies, but stand silent and when its done to the most vulnerable among us.

Hey, I have an idea, if the methods used at Judge Rotenberg are so effective, lets apply them to every facet of our lives. Overweight? The heck with yoyo dieting! Just have someone follow you around and give you a zap in the shorts every time you reach for a Twinkie.

Any national figure who can legitimately take credit for shutting this place down once and for all will likely get my vote come election time if they're running for anything, no matter which party they're in. It just comes down to basic human decency.

Karen Eliot

What is *definitely* appalling about this center is the price. Over $100K, and our tax dollars go to pay for many of the "tuition" of many of the inmates.

And WTF is that $100K paying for? Has the cost of *electricity* gone way way up in MA lately?


Withyoualltheway wrote:

"I don't know what to think about the Rotenberg Center. I have friends whose child is there- he was violent and destructive, despite being heavily medicated. He is now off all meds and able to come home to visit, which he couldn't do before".

It's good to hear about any child improving. But a lot of the drugs pushed on children with autism have side effects like OCD, violence, suicide, self-injury (cutting and trichotillomania in NT children). Maybe you provided the answer yourself-- is it possible he's less violent because he's off medication, not because he was enduring shock? How long do behavior modifications last when the message is "Don't hurt yourself or others or I'll hurt you?" Usually abuse is the key to why individuals grow up violent, not ususally the reason they aren't violent. Children with autism are still human.

The fact that JRC doesn't use drugs and the high rate of tardive dyskinesia among students (neuroleptic induced condition) both hint that the school might only be allowed to exist because it's secretly the repository for drug-injured children.

There's an autism school in Massachusetts which makes parents sign contracts saying they won't attempt gluten-free/casein-free diet or "alternative" autism treatments. The school demands vaccine compliance. I've seen court documents for the transfer of students from this "exclusive" school to JRC when the Skittles & Risperdal form of ABA and daily restraint and seclusion regimens offered by the school fail.

Makes you wonder if perhaps more appropriate diet, less drugs and restraint and fewer vaccines might have helped prevent worsening behavior to begin with. Why wouldn't anyone advocate that before torture? Rhetical question-- we all know why.


As a parent of an autistic child I can imagine cases where this is the better option. If this helps permanently improve behavior and prevents harm from long term prescribed drug use it may be the best option. Remember, the drugs currently used to control behavior are not harmless.

Media Scholar

Some say that electric shock applied to the right places can correct many of the deceptive behaviors of pathological liars.

I'm just saying.....


Unfortunately the core cause of the behavior is always the mystery waiting to be solved.
Each child is individual and no one has the definitive answer for every child for cause or causes of aggressive behavior be it afflicted upon others or self directed.

We need answers and they don't come easy or cheap. Where are the problem solvers offering research using intense observation & close physical monitoring for possibly painful conditions from a simple tooth ache to bone cancer. These children are not acting out as a two year old does to get mommy to hang up the phone and play.

There is a reason and it's our job to get to the bottom of it.


I'm sure the photo you chose isn't from the Rotenberg Center but it still proves the point. Look at the child's belly - totally distended. A perfect example of how medicine- and education - are missing the big picture. Behaviors stop when the medical problems are corrected. No shocks needed.


I don't know what to think about the Rotenberg Center. I have friends whose child is there- he was violent and destructive, despite being heavily medicated. He is now off all meds and able to come home to visit, which he couldn't do before. Some children are so self destructive- pulling out their own teeth, for example- I'd prefer electric shocks to deter that. Thank God we don't have this problem (for now).

Carolyn Gammicchia

The unfortunate thing also in all of this is the lack of support to families where they think this is a viable solution. I cannot think how someone could do this to their child, however parents have for many years. I'm not judging them, however isn't there something wrong with our society that allows this but refusing to obtain what a child needs to alleviate challenging behaviors. Unfortunately too these challenges are caused by undiagnosed healh issues and the shocking doesn't make that go away.

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