Letter to the Editor: A Former Judge Rotenberg Center Worker Speaks Out

14 Nov

The Canton Patch has published a letter to the editor from a former employee of the Judge Rotenberg Center. The letter is described, “Greg Miller worked for the Rotenberg Center in Canton for three years and speaks about his experience.” and carries the warning that “Some of the content in this letter may be disturbing. Reader discretion is advised. ”

Mr. Miller discusses his decision to work at JRC, why he stayed for some 3 years, and the effects it had upon him. But most of the letter is focused up the methods used at the JRC:

I believe that electric shocks are harmful not only to the student receiving a shock, but to all other students in the room witnessing the traumatic shock incidences. Electric shocks are not necessary to help JRC’s population of students. I saw much use of electric shocks that I felt were unwarranted to appear in student plans, and it seemed to me that individualized student plans were designed without proper oversight or adequate safeguards to prevent misuse of the shock devices.

Here are a few of his experiences which he reports:

I have participated as required in following student plans to shock multiple students, including when they reacted to watching a fellow classmate tied up in a restraint chair getting attacked by a staffer with a plastic knife (being held) to the student’s throat. This was a judge-approved Clockwork-Orange-type “treatment” for a student who swallowed a small X-Acto knife blade. A staffer, according to the plan, would run up to the student who had all four limbs tied all day long to a restraint chair, and pretend to force a plastic knife down the student’s mouth while another staff pressed the remote control to give a shock to the student. The staff would repeatedly yell in a gruff voice, “Do you want to swallow a knife?”

and

I have witnessed terrible injuries including bloody scabs all over the torso, arms, and legs caused by the electrodes. While I have heard of Dr. Israel previously claiming that the injuries were due to staff not properly rotating electrodes after shocking a student, the reality was that some students exhibited behaviors resulting in up to 30 shocks in a day. Some students stopped their behaviors after receiving their maximum 30 shocks for the day. Most of the shock devices used two electrodes to pass current through a specific distance of human flesh to maximize the amount of pain from the same amount of current. Two red skin marks from electrodes per shock, times 30 shocks in a day, quickly adds up so that very soon electrodes will be placed over previous marks resulting in bloody scabs. In these cases, the multiple patches of bloody scabs have nothing to do with staff failing to rotate electrodes after shocking students. Rather it exemplifies that the electric shocks approach were not appropriate for the student, and that other approaches should have been found.

Dr. Israel has previously compared the electric shock devices to bee stings. I vividly remember nearly getting the wind knocked out of me during training at JRC back in 2003 when (I was) permitted to test out the weakest of JRC’s electric shock devices on my own arm. That was no bee sting!

I would encourage readers to read the entire letter Mr. Miller wrote.

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17 Responses to “Letter to the Editor: A Former Judge Rotenberg Center Worker Speaks Out”

  1. Shanna November 14, 2011 at 14:44 #

    Is there anything we can do to help get this place shut down?

  2. Ruth/STL November 14, 2011 at 15:39 #

    Occupy JRC!

  3. sharon November 14, 2011 at 22:54 #

    I can’t bring myself to read the entire letter, the above alone makes me sick to my stomach.

    30 shocks a day as a limit? Am I the only one who thinks, leaving aside the fact shocks should not be used at all, that if you need to apply that many then perhaps it is indicative of it’s ineffectiveness?

    I find it very difficult to believe that a work culture that tolerates the above examples of aversive treatments could be a healthy or happy place for any of the students.

    I agree with Ruth/STL above.

  4. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. November 15, 2011 at 04:26 #

    Sharon: “Am I the only one who thinks, leaving aside the fact shocks should not be used at all, that if you need to apply that many then perhaps it is indicative of it’s ineffectiveness?”

    No, by no means are you alone in thinking that. Skinner is probably spinning in his grave still… as I understand Skinner’s work: best results come from pairing positive reinforcement with negative reinforcement (creating what Lewin would have called an ‘approach-avoid conflict’), leaving punishment entirely out of the equation. He was firmly against punishment: experimental analysis demonstrated that it did not work… it was not effective. So it looks to me as if that piece of crap Matthew Israel learned nothing of value from the man he claims to have learned from.

    “I find it very difficult to believe that a work culture that tolerates the above examples of aversive treatments could be a healthy or happy place for any of the students.”

    I also find that to be so. There is nothing about the way that place operates that could possibly make it anything but a place where fear rules, and where unhappiness prevails.

  5. sharon November 15, 2011 at 05:49 #

    Thanks David N Andrews for expanding on my thoughts. I live with exhibit A as an example that punishment doesn’t work in the form of my autistic 3 yo son. If anything it tends to reinforce the behaviour, much to my chagrin.

  6. McD November 15, 2011 at 07:09 #

    Yes, DNA, I would agree, Skinner would be absolutely revolted about what goes on in his name. – this was not his vision for behavior science.

  7. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. November 16, 2011 at 04:06 #

    Sharon: “I live with exhibit A as an example that punishment doesn’t work in the form of my autistic 3 yo son. If anything it tends to reinforce the behaviour, much to my chagrin.”

    Well, I know parents of autistic kids who don’t have the sense of shame to admit that punishment reinforces their behaviour: a functional behavioural analysis of both parts of the parent-child dyad and their behaviour always identifies the reinforcing effect on the parent’s behaviour of punishing the child for her/her behaviour. At least, done properly, it does. Because we know that the sense of relief is the rewarding factor here. By teaching the child other ways of doing things that serve the same functions as the ‘behaviours of concern’, these behaviours can be directly almost eliminated. I started out kinda anti-ABA, but modified my view when I researched it a lot more. I’m anti-Lovaas’ variant of it (which was also (to borrow from McD) ‘not (Skinner’s) vision for behavioural science’.

    @McD: *nods courteously* What puzzles me (well, not that much, really) is that people will – in the name of education/care/treatment/etc. – elect to commit acts of violence on other people. Of course, it’s because – as Sharon notes – such acts reinforce themselves.

  8. sharon November 16, 2011 at 04:55 #

    DNA, ABA has been incredibly effective with my son. He was my third child and parenting him compared to the others is often counter intuitive. It was thanks to his ABA therapists that I came to understand the reinforcing nature of the ‘punishments’ I used.

    I know for a fact that electric shocks would do nothing to improve my sons behaviour in fact I am certain it would increase his defiance, and simply add a layer of trauma to his autism. The idea that people are dong this in the name of any therapy astounds and deeply disturbs me.

  9. McD November 19, 2011 at 08:08 #

    For some reason. Lovaas got a lot of publicity – possibly because of his original ‘shocking’ methods, and the early publicity he got. But in the meantime, a legion of behavior analysts went about business as usual, without using aversives (Skinner absolutely did not believe in aversives for a number of reasons, some of these were addressed over time in various essays, but never completely refuted).

    Because Lovass’ methods are no longer used, a responsible meta-analysis will account for this. Modern ABA Meta-analyses tend to restrict data to the mid 90s and later. The sooner we just perhaps acknowledge Lovaas as a pioneer, but drop all reference to his data, the better.

    As for Israel. Well, every tree is going to drop the odd nut. Dr Oz, Dr Geier, and Dr Phil were all accredited in their fields. Do we avoid all contact with cardiologists, because of the one nutter? Looks like Israel is one nut that society has contained – but there is a really long list of nutters who have caused a shit-load of damage who are still out there and still actually killing kids. OK, this particular nut used electrodes. Others nutters are using mass media and have a far greater body count than Isreal.

    At the recent ABAI conference in Denver, I was very pleased to attend a seminar on ABA and ethics. The main thrust was that the ‘fathers’ of Behavior Analysis could not have foreseen the situation that the field is in today. The speaker addressed the issue of using the original Lovaas data as evidence of ABA effectiveness (given that the methods would never be used today – so the data is nonsense), and the apparent accommodation of non-evidence based therapies by some ABA practitioners. She was appalled that ABA practitioners would snuggle-up to bio-med nutters just to retain a client (my words, not hers, but you get the idea). The ethical approach was to not recommend or encourage non-evidence-based therapies, regardless of the client’s proclivities.

    There were other points as well, mostly concerning the problems which have occurred as ABA has moved at near light speed from university based activity to a commercial activity. The need to regulate and provide oversight for this new commercial activity was recognized, as was the likelihood of problems and underhand activity if things are not regulated.

  10. McD November 22, 2011 at 07:01 #

    Maybe I should change my ID to “threadkiller”. I may just be a paranoid aspie. if I get time later I may run the stats on comments following my comments. And maybe just lurk.

  11. sharon November 22, 2011 at 23:30 #

    haha McD, I read and enjoyed your above comment. I had nothing to add. You’re no threadkiller.

  12. stanley seigler November 23, 2011 at 16:51 #

    @McD “At the recent ABAI conference in Denver, I was very pleased to attend a seminar on ABA and ethics. The main thrust was that the ‘fathers’ of Behavior Analysis could not have foreseen the situation that the field is in today.”

    apologies for it not being obvious to me…what are the specifics of what ‘fathers’ could NOT have foreseen…perhaps you have pointed this out…pls direct me to your comments…if not, and if you are so inclined would you comment…

    a question for all re ABA ethics…are m. dawson’s opines in her paper “The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists” still relevant…

    stanley seigler

  13. sharon November 25, 2011 at 04:52 #

    @Stanley, re. Michelle Dawson’s paper still being relevant, not in my humble and limited opinion.

  14. stanley seigler November 25, 2011 at 17:40 #

    @sharon, “…not in my humble and limited opinion.”

    my opine, formed with very limited, layman’s experience, is it states some truths re science in general…ie, too much promotional science…not sure how it applies to ABA…

    ABA science seems to have done as much harm as good…much-a-do about science vice the fact that ABA works in many cases…

    stanley seigler

  15. sharon November 26, 2011 at 01:26 #

    @Stanley if by science you mean evidence based then yes ABA has that going for it. Personally I don’t think you can fault Applied Behavioural Analysis as a way of understanding and assisting people with autism. I think it’s more about the philosophical approaches that the ABA practitioner may apply that get’s the approach into trouble.
    Ive seen ABA applied in two settings, one in my home the other in centre. I see issues with both from time to time that I question. There’s always room for improvement. But I also see therapists who really care about the kids they work with. I also have contact with many other parents whose children are undergoing ABA programs. There’s a wide variety of approaches under the ABA umbrella.
    I think the work of self advocates to raise awareness of the lived experience of autism, and what it’s like to be on the receiving end of therapy allows us to continue to develop and refine ABA implementation. I suppose I would argue that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater .

  16. stanley seigler November 26, 2011 at 03:54 #

    @ sharon: “I would argue that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater…”

    dont think anyone disagrees with this…my concern is the ethics of promotional science many ABAers use to sell ABA…

    ABA is effective…seeing is believing…as mentioned it works in many cases…

  17. #anon February 17, 2012 at 20:26 #

    We have been watching the ongoing mistreatment of these children and young adults. Such atrocities will not go unnoticed.

    Our findings:
    http://piratepad.net/gIdr9ZQ9SR

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