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Stop torturing special needs students

Torturing special needs students
Torturing special needs students
Photo by Christopher Furlong

The victim is strapped spread-eagle, face down, wearing a helmet and electrically shocked multiple times. This is not a description of torture in a far off land. This is a description of an FDA-approved treatment at The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts. The JRC is a school treating children and teenagers with developmental disabilities, including autism, and other treatment refractory emotional and behavioral conditions. The description above pertains to Andre, who at the time was a student at the JRC.

Please view the three-minute video of Andre, who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, being physically restrained and shocked multiple times reportedly for his refusal to take off his coat. Andre’s cries for mercy are clearly audible in the video. Students who are problematic at the JRC are also sometimes required to wear electrodes on their limbs and torso in the event they need to be “treated” using electric shocks for program indiscretions.

Manfred Nowak, a United Nations expert on torture stated that the electric shock treatment that is used at the JRC is torture. Mr. Nowak appears in the JRC video. The FDA is investigating the use of electric shock devices and it seems likely that the FDA will ban the use of such devices. The JRC is reportedly the only entity or institution in the United States using electric shock to modify behavior.

As a former psychotherapist and being academically trained in psychology I find it surprising that shock treatment in any form is used to modify behavior. After viewing the video I was also stunned that staff would participate in such treatment. As far as I know there is no scientific basis for the use of electric shocks to therapeutically modify behavior particularly in the long-term. Anyone receiving pain from any medium would comply in the moment in an effort to stop the pain. I urge you to view the video and sign the petition.