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May 22nd, 2012
06:41 PM ET

Tonight on AC360: School uses electric shocks on autistic students

Can zapping emotionally challenged children with painful electrical shocks - like cattle - actually help them? The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Massachusetts claims it does. But as Anderson Cooper reported last week, there’s a new push to close the school.

The renewed effort to shutdown JRC comes after a graphic video surfaced that school officials didn't want the public to see. The video shows Cheryl McCollins' son, Andre, receiving 31 electric shocks from school staff in a seven hour period. His family’s attorney says he was later treated for post traumatic stress disorder.

However, another mother, Marie Washington, said JRC saved her son's life by using the shocks to treat him, instead of medications. Washington calls the program a "godsend."

JRC is a special needs school for children as young as 3-years-old. Their website says they've provided "very effective education and treatment to both emotionally disturbed students with conduct, behavior, emotional, and/or psychiatric problems and developmentally delayed students with autistic-like behaviors."

Critics disapprove of the method used by the school to change students' behavior. JRC calls the shocks "aversive therapy," opponents call it torture. They invented the device used to administer the shocks, and they're the only school using the technique.

Tonight, Anderson explores the medical research behind the shock therapy. He'll speak with one of the top autism researchers in the country, Kevin Pelphrey, who’s the Director of Yale’s Child Neuroscience Laboratory, and Nathan Blenkush, Director of Research at JRC, who has worked at the school since 2006. Tune in to AC360 at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.


Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Autism
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Ivan

    it is really sickening to think that any society allows Psychiatry to continue. This is the harsh reality of Psychiatry.

    May 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  2. Joanne

    That is barbaric and criminal behavior. The school should be shut down.

    May 24, 2012 at 5:13 am |
  3. Dave

    If people think this is a good thing then I strongly suggest getting a dosage of this treatment before advocating for it. I am willing to bet not one of those teachers or administrators would stand for just one zap or be willing to get a 2nd at their age/weight rate.
    We are not barbarians and no one should treat those that cannot defend themselves in this manner. They should all be locked up.

    May 24, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  4. Kevin

    This makes me sick...too many schools, both public and private, are turning up in the news with abuses to autistic kids who cannot defend themselves or may be non-verbal. THIS IS SO WRONG! What happened? How have we resorted to electro shock therapy that hasn't been done since the 50's?

    May 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  5. Rachel

    I think criminal charges should have been filed in this particular case. What behavior was this young man exhibiting that must be curbed with an electric shock while he was TIED DOWN! What possibly could he have been doing in that position other than crying for help and in pain that warranted a shock?

    May 23, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  6. Anne

    P C Duker & D M Seys (2000) reported that they had reduced self-injury in 41 children with learning difficulties. Non-aversive therapies and milder aversive stimuli – eg: unpleasant tastes and water sprays – had failed to deter the children from refusing food, vomiting, head banging and hair pulling. Following extensive physical health evaluations and ethical approval, small electric shocks were administered via remote control when children started to self-injure. (The shock was delivered through an electrode attached to the individual’s hand or foot.) However, long-term follow-up 108 months later found that in some of the group the self-injuring behaviour had returned, suggesting the self-injure/electric shock connection had become extinct.

    May 23, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  7. Ava

    The use of electric shock on emotionally challenged or disturbed children as many as 31 times in 7 hours at JRC in Massachusetts can only be described as barbaric. Specially as other students watch and cover their ears not to hear their fellow classmates scream in pain and beg for help!

    May 23, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  8. Dallas

    It is unbelievable that this is allowed to go on in America. Usually, deranged parents have to send their children out of the country to have them tortured in "treatment centers" and boot camps. It is also unbelievable that a prestigious institution such as Yale would let its name be associated with this experimentation and quackery that would make Josef Mengele grin with approval from his grave. Of course shocking people changes their behavior as does water boarding, removal of fingernails, flaying, scalding, and murdering. That fact is many children need to be protected from their parents, people posing as therapists, and people who think 'it's OK because they're scientists or MD's.' Parents murder and drown their own children every day, and some doctors will gladly take money to experiment on children.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  9. Zach

    My little brother is autistic and let me tell you what, if any of his teachers shock him, i will beat that teacher and then shock them. why should these kids be punished like that. why don't they shock high school kids for fighting??? that is not therapy, that's torture.

    May 22, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  10. Matt

    I have been involved with animal research for the past 40 years and we are not allowed to use these procedures on laboratory animals so how can this be allowed on children, especially in front of other kids. When we perform any distressful procedures on animals, they can't be done in front of other animals. This applies to monkeys down the scale to even mice! This procedure and holding kids down with seven aids is outrageous and ought to be stopped immediately especially given the FDA statement and MA ban, plus the obvious anxiety it must produced as a conditioned reflex for these children.

    May 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  11. Dennis DeMille

    These people are nothing less than evil!

    May 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  12. Diaan Lynch

    OMG, so shocking a kid thirty times in eight hours is accomplishing what? In the video they appeared to come up behind the kid and shock him suddenly, how is that productive? And then in the video they shock him as he is already fully strapped to some horrific table. Are you kidding me??? That seems barbaric, inhumane and lacking all judgment. How would any kid understand this kind of treatment? it came out of nowhere and appears not to be a consequence of behavior but a surprise assault. Egregious and uncalled for!!!

    May 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  13. David

    As the father of a mentally and physically disabled child, I can comment with knowledge about this. This treatment is horrid and those willing to administer such treatment are monsters. How you could hold down a child and shock them is unimaginable. These people should be arrested for cruelty. I cannot believe that it is possible that this can go on. It is despicable. You treatment is inhumane and should be outlawed. God help you.

    May 22, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  14. katie

    I'm listening – but losing patience. These are children. Seriously. Can not believe how calm this discussion is.

    May 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Maria

      What would happen if someone tied down a dog and did the same thing? Something needs to change in this country!

      May 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  15. Pattee

    Since when is it ok for us (mere humans) to judge anothers behavior? I believe Jesus said something about letting those with NO sin be the judge of others. Is this pastor witout sin?

    May 22, 2012 at 8:27 pm |