Thursday, January 18, 2007

Banning Skin Shocks - Some Parents Say NO!

The New York State Board of Regents wants to ban the use of skin shocks on students, and surprisingly, parents of the children are opposing the new policy. The article cited is a short but very eye-opening read.
In New York State The Board of Regents is expected to approve a policy that would ban skin shocks and other controversial measures to control troubled students’ behavior, by July 2009, despite objections from families that say it has saved their children’s lives.

The new regulations would only allow the use of skin shocks, which are mild two-second electrical impulses, and other "aversive behavioral interventions," such as withholding meals and exposing a child to noxious odors, with the permission of a review board for a specific child...

The policy is largely a response to complaints about the use of skin shocks at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass., where New York sends some of its special education students, and other types of behavior-modification techniques at preschools for disabled children. About 50 of the students New York sends to Judge Rotenberg receive skin shocks, in which electrical pulses are sent to one of several receivers on a student’s body. In 2005-06, the state paid $33.4 million to the Rotenberg Center.

Parents of students at the center and the school itself have sued the state over the issue. Parents say the shocks are the only treatment that has worked to control their children, and positive-only behavioral therapy does not work in the most difficult cases. Many of the students treated at the center have been in other programs without success. They have severe behavioral disorders and have done things like try to gouge their eyes out or vomit to the point of starvation and even attempted murder, according to a written statement from the school. Many students are severely retarded or autistic.
Other requirements in the policy would:

-- Prohibit the use of aversive behavioral interventions in preschool programs.

-- Require that applications for exemptions for specific children be submitted annually to the state.

-- Clarify that such interventions can be considered only for children who are injuring themselves or is behaving in a way that could harm others.

-- Bar the simultaneous use of physical or mechanical restraint with other aversive behavioral interventions.

-- Set up new procedures for allowing the use of time-out rooms, monitoring of students in time-out rooms and documentation of incidents resulting in such punishment.

Accompanying comments to the article indicate that the state has not done enough to protect kids in the past, and that this policy still allows for mistreatment of kids. :
There have been numerous injuries and deaths reported nationwide from the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion. There is a federal law that says that developmentally disabled students may NOT be exposed to physical restraint or seclusion for punishment purposes. It is the policy of federal agencies that restraint and seclusion are not to be used. And yet NYSED and the NYS Board of Regents have just gone ahead and said that they can be used with disabled students.

Some of us believe that the Regents have approved amendments that violate the constitutional rights of disabled students. We will continue to pursue all alternatives to get these amendments overturned by whatever means necessary. If NYSED and the Board of Regents do not protect the health and safety of disabled youth in NYS, the we hope that the state legislature, courts, or relevant federal agencies will.
I posted a related story reported on in CT. Is your state examining how children in institutions, and schools are being treated? Are you surprised to learn that forms of electro shock therapy are still being employed? What do you think? Should shocks be used as a way of controlling behavior in children? Despite what they say it is pretty painful. On top of this, the use of "electroshock" technology is being spread to law enforcement in the use of Taser guns which are already being used (and misused) even in my own town (I believe the man is suing the police department).

So... let's see now... How about you read what the definition of torture is as put out by the U.S. government (Department of Justice). It seems to me that if electro shocks and withholding food was done to people in custody in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison or in "Gitmo" then civil rights people would be all over it. So why should American kids, and especially disabled kids, in special "educational" institutions be any different? and why wait until 2009 to implement the ban? How many kids will experience pain and even death before then? What can be done to better "manage" kids who they claim cannot be managed any other way than with use of electro shock and other disturbing methods?

Here's more on the subject.


Karen said...

From what I understand about this case, the parents were literally at their wit's ends before finding this school. They believe this school's procedures are the only one that have or will work for their children. I think it is terrible for the state to take away from the parents and the school the only working tool they have.

Probably, we could all agree that another, more humane-seeming tool would be preferable. But the answer to your question regarding alternatives seems to be that their aren't any. And, frankly, if a few uncomfortable electric shocks means that a mentally disturbed child does NOT become a murderer, isn't that of benefit?

I don't know; this is a tough one. Philosophically, I would come down on the side of empowering the parents. Personally, I know how hard it is to keep your cool with a difficult child. Physical discipline can so easily cross the line and become an expression of anger and loss of control. Ultimately, I don't think it fair of anyone outside the exact situation to sit in judgement: these kids are so extremely disturbed that most of us will never come across someone like this. How could we possibly know what their parents and teachers should do?

Judy Aron said...

Well - I agree to an extent - and I certainly can't speak for the parents or caregivers who have to deal with this.. but it seems to me that there should be some other solutions rather than what has been described.

My impression is that some of these "therapies" are also misused and given to kids who don't need them. Also my understanding is that these shocks are not just "uncomfortable" electric shocks; they are pretty damn painful. Some kids have died from these treatments (not just electro shock either).

You know that part of the problem may just very well be the variety of medication these kids are getting - I have heard some pretty horrible stories (from parents) regarding variety and dosages of the psychotropic crap these kids are made to ingest.

Should parents have a say in the treatment of their child? IMO, absolutely.. but at the same time some of these methods really do equate to forms of torture which could possibly lead to a child's death, especially if they are not administered properly.

Ralph Antonelli said...

Ms. Aron,
What most people fail to recognize or acknowledge is the fact that the therapy that is used at the Judge Rotenberg Center is not only approved by the parents, but also approved and supervised by a probate court in MA. The therapy is an optional form of treatment that is recommended only after several months to a year or more of positive only treatment has failed. The parents that seek treatment for their children at JRC do so because their children continue to display behaviors that are severe and dangerous in spite of all of the other treatments that others claim are effective. There has never been a case in which a person has died as a result of the therapy that is offered at JRC. Additionally, each person for whom the treatment is proposed is appointed an attorney with the sole responsibility of ensuring that they are receiving the least restrictive form of treatment. There are well published studies that show that there is a small population of disabled children and adults that do not respond to positive only approaches and aversive therapy is clearly the only means by which to save their lives and allow them to become productive members of society and live their lives with dignity, without the existence of continued self abuse or aggressive behavior. This type of behavior always requires disabled individuals to live in a psychiatric institution or correctional facility, which is clearly not an appropriate setting for individuals with such disabilities.

Mike Banks said...

Another aspect of the debate ragarding the use of aversive treatment which has not received enough attention is what the alternatives are. Opponents have argued that positive programming should be enough, but for a relatively small percentage of students this is not effective. The article above mentions the many deaths nationwide as a result of restraint and seclusion. Students treated with the skin shock procedure at JRC have dramatically fewer restraints. Another alternative which has not received enough attention is the use of psychotropic medications. These medications have side effects which can cause serious harm, including damage to the central nervous system and other organs. While skin shock is painful, it is not harmful. This is a very important distinction. The fact that it is very effective, while not harming the individual, to me makes it the least restrictive and most desirable treatment for some individuals. Taking away the ability of parents to choose this treatment condemns their children to treatments which are ineffective, and which have much greater potential to harm. While this might be an uncomfortable reality for some to face, it is just that: reality.

Linda Burke said...

As a parent of a child who resides at the Judge Rotenberg Center, I can positively state that if not for this school, my daughter would probably be dead today. The multitude of psychotropic meds given to her over the years did not help one bit, they only caused to her to gain a tremendous amount of weight and she is now a diabetic. She does not respond to positive only reinforcement and is a danger to herself as well as to others. New York City has no behavior modification programs which I firmly believe can help children like mine. She has made more progress in the last year and a half at JRC than she ever has. A small skin shock to help remind her of proper behavior is much more acceptable than seeing her hurt herself or someone else.

Judy Aron said...

Your points are well taken, but that being said you must also realize that there are children in other institutions that are being abused by aversive therapies. Instances have been reported.

If what you do really and truly works, then that is what you have to deal with. I am merely questioning the validity of these treatments as well as alternatives.
Furthermore, it is also my desire to see institutional abuses stopped. You surely do realize that they exist and that too is a reality we must deal with.

Personally, I'd like to see more information on alternatives. Some claim there are none, and I am not so sure. Being that I am not a parent in this situation I cannot say first hand what the solutions are in these extreme case, but I hoped to spur discussion on the matter, and bring the issue to the public. I appreciate your input into the discussion and hope that whatever therapies work for your child remain available, but that other kids are protected from institutional abuse as well.

I will tell you one thing though, I am no longer impressed by what the "medical experts" tell us because in many instances they are either doing what is best and easiest for them to manage their patients, or are doing things for the financial gain of Big Pharma, or to protect themselves from being sued, as well as for other motives. There is plenty of bad medicine being practiced. The credo of "First Do No Harm" has totally been thrown out the window and I can attest to that first hand from my own experiences with "specialists".

One really must be a very informed consumer, especially regarding our health, and as a result we must become advocate not only for ourselves but for our children. Becoming informed means we need to see various sides of an argument.
Again thanks for putting your side out for discussion.

Anonymous said...

My name is Brian Avery. I am a former student at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center who was successfully treated with aversives. Despite the fact that the thought that mild skin shock is cruel and inhumain, I can say that my life was 110% better with the use of skin shock than before the use of skin shock. Before skin shock, I would be extremely disruptive, aggressive, sometimes hurt myself, not listen to whoever was incharge of me, and wouldn't do my school work. I would spent a lot of time in a small room with just me and a staff member, where the staff and I were prohibited from having conversation. I would not go on much outings and I would not go home to visit my family that often.
After mild skin shock was introduced into my treatment plan, my life completely turned around for the better. All of my aggressive, disruptive, health-dangerous, and non-complient behavior stopped. I was able to do school work that I couldn't do before. I went on much more outings, I was able to visit home extremely often and whatnot. I eventually was able to graduate from the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center and in 2005, I graduated from my local high school in Florida with a regular high-school diploma.
From my observation as being a student at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center for five years, I've seen tons of students, both higher and lower functioning benifit extremely from the mild skin shock. The only thing I didn't like about the mild skin shock was that when I felt like acting up, I was not able to because I knew what the consequence was going to be. A lot of people say the mild skin shock feels like a bee sting; well, I disagree. In my opinion, the mild skin shock feel LESS painful than a bee sting, yet it is effective in just about every case in which it is applied, both higher and lower functioning individuals.

Dana said...

This is a difficult one, and I will abstain from a direct opinion on this matter for the moment : )

One thing that really bothers me, though, is the regulations in our state. Children may not be restrained, and no form of physical punishment can be used in foster care.

That may sound like a good policy, but at the same time, the governor decided to phase out the higher levels of care, where staff are trained to restrain children, and work with children who are dangerous to themselves or others. So all the children from therapeutic homes and even some institutionalized children were being released into regular state and agency based foster homes. These homes have training, but not for this level of care.

So families end up getting investigated for physically restraining a child who is attempting to do serious injury (even murder) to other children.

I agree that a large number of children are over-medicated, but there is another side to the story, as well. Many of these children are on these medications due to their history of violent and aggressive behavior. Kids with severe attachment disorders are quite capable of murder, and have little sense of right and wrong. I'm not talking about special ed kids, here. The children I worked with for the most part were of normal or above average intelligence. The difficulty lay in the abuse they received as a child. The medications end up a mixed bag...on the one hand, alone they do nothing because the problem is not chemical. But they can act as a "chemical restraint" while some of the problems are worked on, since only time and consistency really will have any lasting effect on these children's lives.

Judy Aron said...

Doesn't anyone find it ironic that we are discussing this and at the same time there is legislation pending in California to ban spanking of children?