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Mother Jones and Boston Globe on the DOJ investigation of the Judge Rotenberg Center

Posted Feb 25 2010 12:33pm 1 Comment

The recently opened Department of Justice investigation on the Judge Rotenberg Center is being noticed by the media.

Mother Jones has a piece, ‘School of Shock’ Under Federal Investigation , which references their 2007 article, School of Shock .

From the recent piece in Mother Jones:

“The initial response of the Department of Justice was that they didn’t believe that they could take action because they didn’t believe they had jurisdiction over privately operated facilities,” wrote Nancy Weiss of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities. “I suggested to them that they consider jurisdiction under the ADA on the basis that people with disabilities are being treated in ways that are neither legal nor would be tolerated if applied to people who do not have disabilities.” Weiss reported that the DOJ couldn’t give her an estimate on how long their investigation would take.

US opens Canton school inquiry

Shock discipline at Rotenberg center prompts concern

From that article:

Renee Wohlenhaus, deputy chief of the Disability Rights Section of the Justice Department, said in a letter last week that her agency would look into whether the Rotenberg Center violates the nation’s laws on the fair treatment of the disabled. She did not respond to a request for an interview.

While Wohlenhaus’s letter referred to the inquiry as a routine investigation, federal officials and disability advocates say the investigation is significant because the agency does not choose to probe all complaints they receive.

Nancy Weiss, director of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities and the author of the letter on behalf of the disability groups, said her conversations with Justice Department officials lead her to believe that their probe will be far from “perfunctory.’’

I’ll point out that Kev can be counted amongst the many bloggers who have discussed the JRC in the past. His piece, Judge Rotenberg Center has more comments than I can recall for any piece on this blog.

Addenda: Add UPI with Feds probe school’s shock treatments

and the Boston Herald: Feds probe special needs school

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Comments (1)
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 The negative references to the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center that appeared on WellSphere on February 25, 2010 have been brought to my attention. To providing some balance to your readers, I would appreciate your bringing the following information to the attention of your readers. AVERSIVE THERAPY SAVES LIVES JRC is a residential behavior modification school in Canton, Mass., for individuals whose severe, often life-threatening behavior disorders are not effectively treated by psychotropic drugs, counseling, or rewards-only procedures. Through the use of safe, parent-requested, individually court-authorized, and scientifically validated aversive therapy – while avoiding or minimizing psychotropic drugs – the center has, to cite just a few cases, saved the life of a child who vomited so frequently that he was in danger of starving to death; restored the eyesight of two children whose head-banging was so severe that each detached both retinas and risked permanent blindness; and saved the life of a boy whose severe, compulsive self-scratching placed him at risk of dying from blood and bone infections. The center’s program consists, overwhelmingly, of positive rewards and educational procedures. However, as research has shown, such procedures alone are effective in only 60 percent of cases at best. Consequently, positive procedures at JRC need to be supplemented, in the most difficult cases, with the use of shock to the surface of the skin. This feels like a hard pinch and is administered as an immediate corrective consequence for the problem behaviors. Behavioral skin shock bears no resemblance to electroconvulsive therapy treatment (psychiatric brain stimulation that causes seizures) or police stun guns (JRC’s skin shock uses 60 volts; a stun gun generates 350,000 volts).  This form of treatment is extremely effective, and a peer reviewed study found that there are no negative side effects. The procedure is far less aversive and far less painful than the damaging self-abusive, aggressive, and dangerous behaviors that it eliminates. The procedure is so effective that it is applied infrequently (on average fewer than three times per week), and is used only until the student’s problem behaviors decrease and positive behaviors take their place.  Aversive therapy: ·        Eliminates the need for cocktails of mind-numbing psychotropic medications which, instead of treating behaviors, often put the user into a semi-comatose state in which the individual sleeps most of the day. They also expose the user to frightening short- and long-term side effects such as permanent tics, obesity, diabetes, organ damage, metabolic changes that can shorten life expectancy.·        Eliminates the need for manual and mechanical restraints, which most programs use to control aggressive and self-abusive behaviors. In a published study in which we treated aggression in 60 students, once our skin-shock aversive was employed, the use of manual restraints dropped to zero and psychotropic medications dropped by 98 percent.·        Eliminates the need for time-out rooms and isolation.·        Is used with only 27 of the Judge Rotenberg Center’s 145 school age students and only after JRC has tried, for an average period of approximately one year, to accomplish the treatment goals using only positive rewards and educational procedures. ·        Is pre-approved, individually, by the parent and a physician, and by a judge at a hearing in which the child is represented by his/her own court-appointed attorney. ·        Is a  procedure that numerous parents and students have credited with saving lives. ·        Is used with students whose behaviors are so severe that they have been rejected and expelled by other treatment programs that pride themselves on using “positive-only” procedures.·        Enables JRC to maintain a policy of near-zero rejections and expulsions. Parents do not have to fear a call asking them to “come take your too-difficult-to-handle-child home.” Most if not all critics of JRC have never visited the center or spoken with any of our current clinicians, staffers and students, or those students' parents. Most of the opposition to the center’s skin-shock aversive treatment reflects an ignorance of its effectiveness and a refusal to rationally weigh the benefits against the disadvantages.  The boy we saved from life-threatening blood infections died at age 25 from a resumption of those same self-scratching-caused blood infections after he was removed from JRC by advocates who made the same claim as Ms. Ahern, that his severe self-injurious behaviors could be treated successfully without aversives.  By contrast, two independent, tenured, full professors of special education who took the trouble to visit the center and saw first-hand what it has accomplished recently wrote a textbook (Williams, B.F. & Williams, R.L., Effective Programs for Treating Autism Spectrum Disorder: Applied Behavior Analysis Model) that devotes a chapter to JRC and that cites the center as one of a handful of effective, nationally-recognized behavioral treatment programs for children with autism spectrum disorders.  

The writer, a behavioral psychologist, is the executive director of the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, a residential special-needs school in Canton, Mass. which he founded in 1971. His email address is

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