Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spanking Bad, but Shocking Still OK

In Massachusetts, it's a good day to be a kid. That is, unless you're an autistic kid.

A story in today's Boston Herald online edition details how the state legislature is set to debate outlawing spanking of any kind in the state, including in one's own home. As stated in the article:

...If signed into law, parents would be prohibited from forcefully laying a hand on any child under age 18 unless it was to wrest them from danger, lest they be charged with abuse or neglect. ...

This would make Massachusetts the first state in the US to ban spanking. Massachusetts has long been known to be a very liberal state. And this proposed ban on spanking is evidence of that bent. Inexplicably, however, that liberal concern of the state for the welfare of children doesn't exist if you happen to be on the autism spectrum.

As this article in the online Village Voice pointed out, at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts, administering electric shocks to autistic students in this residential "school" is an everyday occurrence.

...The only thing that sets these students apart from kids at any other school in America (aside from their special-ed designation) is the electric wires running from their backpacks to their wrists. Each wire connects to a silver-dollar-sized metal disk strapped with a cloth band to the student's wrist, forearm, abdomen, thigh, or foot. Inside each student's backpack is a battery and a generator, both about the size of a VHS cassette. Each generator is uniquely coded to a single keychain transmitter kept in a clear plastic box labeled with the student's name. Staff members dressed neatly in ties and green aprons keep the boxes hooked to their belts, and their eyes trained on the students' behavior. They stand ready, if they witness a behavior they've been told to target, to flip open the box, press the button, and deliver a painful two-second electrical shock into the student at the end of the wire. ...

So, as the Boston Herald notes, laying a hand on a child forcefully in any manner would earn you being charged with abuse or neglect, while in the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) withholding food and shocking kids is considered therapy. And if a small shock doesn't get the desired result, then just increase the level of shock.

...They still withhold food from some students as an aversive, but shocks are their main treatment. The school began using electric shock in 1989, but the device they first used, called SIBIS, was so weak that many students grew accustomed to it, eroding its effectiveness. So Israel developed the GED, which he registered with the Food and Drug Administration in 1995. (The GED was classified in such a way that it only required FDA registration, not approval.) When students grew innured to that, Israel brought forth the GED-4, three times as powerful as the original GED. That version is not registered with the FDA, which now says the Rotenberg Center is exempt because it's only using the machines in-house. ...

And although Dr. Israel, the founder and head of the JRC, justifies the use of involuntary shocks because of self injurious violent behavior on the part of students, its use is not limited to that.

...But the GED isn't only used when a life is at stake, or when a student hurts himself or another, but also for "noncompliance" or "simple refusal." "We don't allow individuals just to stay in bed all day," says Dr. Robert von Heyn, a Rotenberg clinician, in a video for parents. "We want to teach people. So we may use the GED to treat noncompliance." Other behavior that doesn't appear dangerous also could earn a zap. While it might seem excessive to shock a student for nagging his teacher, Israel asks, what if the kid nags all the time, every minute, every day? The nagging interferes with his learning, so he can't learn self-control and develop normally. JRC's choice is to shock him, stop the nagging, and let him learn. ...

As a parent, I am not the biggest proponent to spanking. Generally speaking, I try my hardest to avoid it, and consider each episode at least partly a failure of parenting on my part. But I also think that parents need to be given latitude in raising their own children, and that a swat to the butt is not the worst thing in the world.

I believe that I know the difference between a swat on the butt and child abuse. Unfortunately, it would appear that the state of Massachusetts has gotten it entirely backwards. A swat on the butt will get a parent arrested if this law passes, but starving kids or jolting them with electric shocks for non-compliance in school gets you paid hefty sums of money from the state.


Ange said...

I remember the first time I read about the shocking. I was so so sick.

Club 166 said...

It just seems to be so hypocritical to me. To on the one hand be so concerned about someone giving their kid a single swat on the butt, yet on the other have a whole state subsidized school with an organized policy of shocking people at will (and starving them).


Ange said...

I agree. I have so much reeling in my head about this, but no energy or brain power to process it. It just sits in my gut.

Niksmom said...

I keep coming back to comment but evry time I see that picture and think about this...words fail me.

Casdok said...

Yes shocking.

John Best said...

When you criticize a treatment that works, you should have an alternate solution. How do you stop autistic kids from hurting themselves?

Club 166 said...

When you criticize a treatment that works, you should have an alternate solution. ...

You may be surprised, but I agree!

However, we have to look at what your statement says.

The first part of the sentence "When you criticize a treatment that works..." presumes that the treatment does indeed work.

I would posit that the treatment has little effect, except in the short term. Also, with any treatment, you have to look at all of the effects to determine whether it is "working" or not.

On the one hand, if you use a cattle prod (or wires hooked up to a battery) you can get people to behave in a certain fashion, in the short term. The Nazis and North Vietnamese proved this quite nicely. The questions are 1) whether long term behavioral effects are generally sustained once the "treatments" stop?, 2) what are the side effects to those who are being shocked?, and 3) is the treatment ethical?

To the first question, I have not seen studies that look at long term outcomes, and compare this type of "treatment" to other, more conventional treatments.

As to the second, there is no question that long after physical shocks have stopped, emotional and psychological scarring remains. This is not surprising, as this is consistent with what occurs after people have been tortured.

Finally, one would have a hard time justifying shocking someone (or starving them, for that matter) as being ethical treatment. If (and this is a BIG if) there was absolutely NO other treatment that worked, and the person was causing irreparable harm to themselves, then MAYBE such treatments could be justified as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

But let's look at what Israel uses this for. He's not only using it for the "hard core" cases, he uses it for kids being non-compliant and such things as "nagging their teacher". There's NO way you're ever going to be able to justify shocking people for nagging or being non-compliant. That just flies in the face of common sense and common decency.

As to the "hard core" cases, I would put forth that the majority of them have NOT been tried on what might work for them, namely intensive scrutiny by highly trained individuals to look for triggers that set them off, therapy and accommodations to address those triggers, and intensive therapy to improve communication with them.

Rather than employ a large cadre of highly trained psychologists, Israel employs a large group of low skilled people with buttons to push to shock people. There is no attempt at providing any therapy to the inmates at his "school", and little education, either. So even for "hard core" cases, I find it unethical at this time, as the hurdles to justify such treatment have yet to be surmounted.

As much as Israel's "treatments" cost, it is cheaper for states to ignore the vast majority of kids with issues and put the ones they can't get thrown into the judicial system into Israel's little house of horrors.


John Best said...

I don't agree with what Israel does. On the other hand, I've seen kids wearing goalie masks 24 hours a day to prevent self injury. Yuh, they're even fed through the mask.

At least Israel is doing SOMETHING which I think is better than doing nothing. I wish he'd learn what DAN can teach him so he might eliminate the root of the problem rather than finding a painful way to deal with symptoms. It seems the only other solution is using drugs that turn the kids into zombies and they don't eliminate the self abuse either.

So, you can choose, drugs, shocks, allow the abuse, make the abuse difficult (goalie mask), or try to solve the root problem.

Not to belittle your point about using professionals for therapy but kids who are severe simply can't respond to any of it. Like my son was, they are completely oblivious. If they are able to respond, i agree with your point

Club 166 said...

Wearing a goalie mask all day is stigmatizing and degrading, too. While it may be appropriate in the short term, while looking for a solution, I consider it a failure as an end solution.

And although I think that drugs can be helpful sometimes, I also agree that they are also used to the extreme just to pacify people, until they appear as "zombies".

I don't agree that "doing something" is necessarily better than doing nothing, especially if the "something" is harmful. Which is why I look to peer reviewed, properly blinded, well conducted studies to inform choices of therapy. Neither shocking nor any of the DAN "therapies" have such studies.

There may be some severely affected autistics that are "unreachable". But I think that a lot are written off as unreachable without proper attempts at establishing communication with them.


Marla said...

It disgusts me what we allow to be done to children and adults. Truly sad.

John Best said...

"There may be some severely affected autistics that are "unreachable". But I think that a lot are written off as unreachable without proper attempts at establishing communication with them."

It's been eight years since we learned that thimerosal caused the autism epidemic. Nobody is doing those studies you want to see. I don't think they'll ever be done, too much to lose by doing them for the people who made the mistakes.

My son would be in a home someplace now if I hadn't used chelation. His first therapist had sent her autistic son away at age 10 and he wasn't nearly as bad as my kid WAS. Every accepted method had been tried with her son and mine to establish communication with no luck. Now I have communication, just no speech yet.

If chelation can keep some kids from being locked away for life, I think it might also free some people who have already been given up on. If something happens to me where I can't function, I hope my legal guardian doesn't wait around for DBCS's to take a shot with anything that might help. I think those people who are already institutionalized and can't speak for themselves would feel the same way.

Club 166 said...

...It's been eight years since we learned that thimerosal caused the autism epidemic. ...

That would be nice, except that it's not been proven to be true. While I know you believe that, the best evidence available says that's not so.

...My son would be in a home someplace now if I hadn't used chelation. ...

Or, he's gotten better because you didn't institutionalize him. I don't think you'll find it surprising that people that are institutionalized do worse than those who aren't.

...Now I have communication, just no speech yet. ...

I'm happy that you can communicate with your son. I can imagine that that's made life a whole lot better.

...If chelation can keep some kids from being locked away for life, I think it might also free some people who have already been given up on. If something happens to me where I can't function, I hope my legal guardian doesn't wait around for DBCS's to take a shot with anything that might help. ...

For all the years that chelation has been around, you would think that those that support it would take the time to do some good studies that actually show that it works. They haven't.

And medicine is littered with bad things happening from treatments that people initially thought were good, but they weren't studied enough to show that they actually had some bad effects (thalidomide, anyone?). So I wouldn't be quick to give stuff to myself or my relatives that didn't at least have some good safety studies behind it (and not just a bunch of testimonials).

Have a nice holiday season.


bigwhitehat said...

First, you probably know I completely support the use of corporal punishment with children under 12 and some with older children. Of course that is under a narrow set of circumstances.

Now, this whole thing sickens me. As a doctor the man should understand how poorly the human body handles electric shock.

If I suffer the slightest shock at work, I have to have my blood analyzed for electrolytes. This is because my employer is serious about mitigating the cell damage that can occur related to the shock.

The fact that they are using this as a behavior modifier is also telling. I spank my children when they defy authority in some unacceptable manner. These children are being shocked for reasons that have nothing to do with being defiant.

macskadék said...

Ugh. That shocking thing is plainly disgusting. However, there are ways of abuse ("discipline", to be politically correct) that have no physical aspects at all. Anyone who has ever been bullied can agree with that. So banning physical violence might be an entirely pointless effort... that's why I'm ranting here, sad and repulsed.

Being 18, I'm right on the edge between child and adult. And I remember everything my parents, teachers and age peers did to me. That's why I see everyone supporting either this shocking-starving thing or "corporeal punishment" as yet another Karen McCarron.

The new law might be a good beginning... but there should be a law against what Israel does as well.