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Helpful Therapy or Unethical Abuse?

By Carissa DiPietro

By law, in the United States, the police cannot use physical aversive techniques on criminals, incarcerated or otherwise. These are people who have been caught with drugs, robbed banks, or even taken innocent lives. If the court sees such treatment an unjust punishment for these people who add danger to our otherwise safe society, how do some see this as a safe and ethical therapy for the mentally ill? It is inhumane, and in most cases, it is simply counter productive.

Currently approved by the New York School Department under chapter 853 of The Laws of 1976, The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC), located in Canton, Massachusetts, serves as a residential school attending to mentally ill citizens between the ages of 8 and 46. These students may be diagnosed with one of many disabilities, including Autism, Mental Retardation, and emotional disturbance (i.e. Depression, Bi Polar, etc.). JRC provides an intensive behavioral treatment program 24/7 to these students who exhibit serious behaviors that restrict them from being able to learn in a normal environment.

The use of negative reinforcement to discontinue or prevent the act of bad behavior, especially with the use of physical tactics, is known as aversive interventions. Chiefly these tactics have been known to have a negative impact on countless people. JRC uses very painful aversive techniques, also known as Level III aversion interventions, on people who often do not even wholly understand the purpose for such a punishment.

JRC has legal permission to use Level III aversive interventions, including Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED), food deprivation, and even Behavior Rehearsal Lessons where students are restrained and told to do an undesired behavior. If they refuse or pull away they receive a shock, if they follow through with the undesired activity that they were told to do they receive multiple shocks while doing it to teach them what not to. These techniques are to be used on children exhibiting aggressive, health dangerous, destructive, major disruptive and non-compliant behaviors, yet students are receiving Level III interventions for little things such as whispering, or nagging. In order to use Level III interventions, JRC must get a court order per child although nine out of every ten times the court will approve the schools request, provided they have some reason, however small, to give their approval.

Although I do not personally agree, many parents with children at JRC think that the techniques used at this school are appropriate practices. However, many of JRC s supporters are unaware that in this place, in which you can hardly call a school, Level III aversive techniques are not always only used on children who have the approval needed to receive such treatment. In addition, many rules are broken in the different uses of the GED. Often they make students wear the receiving transmitter in the shower, putting these residents at risk for fatal electrocution. Other times the staff are not properly trained, and put the receivers on areas of the body, such as the spine, chest, etc., that can create health complications. However, what is most disquieting is the fact that these students can get shocked for a multitude of things, things that are not appropriately punishable with the use of these techniques.

My younger brother, Kolyn, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome about four years ago. My mother has dedicated much of her time to finding programs and therapies for him. He has been known to respond greatly to positive reinforcement and structured environments. I am very lucky that he does as well as he does because many children have disabilities far more complicated and in these cases, a residential setting may be necessary. However there are residential settings that do not abuse their students. Many parents do not have the patients to do the things necessary to help these children; they may believe it is easier simply to pass the child on to someone else. On the other hand, many parents are in despair and may think there is no other alternative, as their child may have been thrown out of other schools or exhibiting extreme behaviors, such as hurting themselves or others. They may think this is their only hope.

I believe JRC is a very unsafe, unethical, callous, inhumane, and among many other things, cruel place. Especially to send children who are very unresponsive and for lack of good communication skills, usually have no idea what they are being punished for. Many times, the only reason people see any result is because these children are scarred to death of what may happen if they do a single thing wrong, however, they still do not understand why these things are unacceptable, and this may frustrate them. If JRC was more concerned with the well-being of their patients and how they are progressing instead of how much money they make per student, maybe the school would not come across as disturbing as it does.

Many people have tried to shut down JRC, but each time they failed to do so. What will it take to show how despicable this school really is? It is not doing any one, including its students, any good. It seems no matter how many times the case is taken to the court the result is the same. What will it take to get some justice for these poor children who, certainly, cannot decide what is best for themselves.

JRC is an unacceptable place to be sending anyone, never mind the mentally ill. We need to stop such things in this world. Now the best thing that anyone can do is to spread the word. Tell anyone and everyone you know about this school and their unkind ways. Some may agree with what is being done at JRC, after all even Hitler had supporters. However, it is important to change their minds. These children did not choose to have a mental illness, and yet they are being punished for it. Someone needs to help them, we need to do what is right. The Judge Rotenburg Educational Center needs to be shut down, never to re-open again.

Carissa DiPietro is a fourteen year old girl and an aspiring journalist. If you would like to contact her please email.

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