February 19, 2015

electric shockThe Judge Rotenberg Center in Caton, Massachusetts, receives $30 million per year of taxpayer money from New York City, in spite of a record of abuse and violations of New York state rules, including restraint, seclusion, hunger, and electric shocks. The school has been sued by parents of former students alleging abuse, and has even been investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Most of the students enrolled at the Center are from New York City, 121 out of 137, with 29 who were enrolled this year, in spite of the school’s disturbing publicity. Ninety percent of the students enrolled at the school are minorities. A representative from the school told ProPublica that this is due to a new policy instituted by Mayor Bill De Blasio in which the city declines to fight cases involving special needs children in which it is “unlikely to prevail.” Once students are enrolled at the school, it is almost impossible for the city to get them out if the parent disagrees, even if they are footing the bill.

The Center only takes students with a history of severe behaviors. Most have been expelled from other schools due to extreme aggressive or self-injurious behaviors, and for many, it is a last-ditch effort to find help for their children. The school uses a model of aversive therapy, in which students are punished for undesirable behaviors through the use of a two-second electric shock on the skin. The shocks are only supposed to be used for particular students on particular behaviors that had been court-approved, but investigations uncovered students being subjected to shocks, and other aversive punishments, for infractions such as swearing or stimming. Cheryl McCollins sued the school after her son, Andre, was strapped to a table and shocked repeatedly for refusing to remove his coat in class. You can see the disturbing video here https://www.autismdailynewscast.com/fda-panel-investigates-judge-rotenberg-center-for-use-of-electric-shock-therapy-with-video/14319/laurel-joss/.

The school recruits students using radio ads and a toll-free number aimed at desperate parents. They have also worked with Joan A. Harrington & Associates advocacy agency, and Harrington acknowledges accepting payment from the school, in spite of her official role as an unbiased advocate who is meant to help overwhelmed parents navigate the government bureaucracy. The school also employs Bracewell & Guiliani, former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani’s firm, and the Albany firm Malkin & Ross, and has spent approximately $770,000 since 2010 lobbying officials in Washington DC, Massachusetts, and New York to reduce the restrictions on their practices.

While many parents of former students are outraged that the school continues to operate, there are those who credit their program with helping their children. “If it wasn’t for Judge Rotenberg, my daughter would be dead,” Marcia Shear told ProPublica. Her daughter, Samantha, has been a student at the school for nearly ten years. She was admitted after engaging in severe self-injurious behavior that almost left her blind.

You can read the full article here http://www.propublica.org/article/nyc-sends-30-million-a-year-to-school-with-history-of-giving-kids-shocks.

About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog www.remediatingautism.blogspot.com. She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on https://twitter.com/speaking_autism and https://www.facebook.com/speaking.autism.ca

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