16 January, 2008

Blogging Against Aversives, 14-01-08

Mike Reynolds at Uppity Disability started this the other day. I'm a bit late to the party, but I'd like to chime in, because this is important.

At several institutions for "troubled" youth in the United States (and, I imagine, elsewhere), "aversive therapies" are employed to correct behaviour. The "therapies" include withholding food, isolation, and electric shocks. The behaviours range from self-injurious to "nagging." Many of the children and youth imprisoned at these "schools" are autistic, mentally disabled, abuse victims, or any combination of the above.

The link to Uppity Disability (above) has more details and many more links, because yesterday was "Blogging Against Aversives" day. I don't have the stomach to rehash it all, so check them out if you're not sure what I'm talking about. Odd One Out has an excellent summary of the situation, complete with a list of issues a 2006 noted with the Judge Rotenberg Center (the most well-known "aversive therapies" school). Not Dead Yet includes a rather chilling conversation with one of the founders of the electric shock "therapy."

Let's start with where I stand on this issue: Electroshock as an aversive is outrageous. I'm shocked that it isn't illegal.

Where I work, we have aggressive and self-injurious residents. We have autistic residents. It's illegal for us to even withhold dessert. We're not allowed to defend ourselves from attack, except in strictly non-violent and ministry-approved ways. And I'm not about to divulge specifics, but if we can hack it with the behaviours we get, there is no excuse for anyone to be using electroshock.

There are other ways to deal with problem behaviours, even serious ones. Many of these centres forbid the use of medications. Some of the kids there have behaviours that can be positively altered or even eliminated by very common and effective drugs. Rather than punishing kids for acting out, counselling and actual therapy should be used to get at the roots of a problem. In extreme cases where self-injury is an issue, environment modification can make a person safer.

Now, one might be tempted to dismiss such behaviour as "medieval." An it's certainly true that the infamous Hospital of St. Mary Bethlehem could be compared to the JRC. Yet St. Mary Bethlehem was a post-medieval institution, and the widespread segregation and seclusion of mentally impaired persons seems to be a depressingly modern institution. The (admittedly sparse) literature on the subject locates the mentally impaired person outside the hospital. As far as we can tell, they were not segregated until the early-modern (rennaissance) period.**

What are we doing? Why do we permit this? What is wrong with us, as a society, that we seem to have regressed in our treatment of troubled children? Even the worst criminals in our prisons are not tortured like this. 1,000 years ago, right in the middle of the so-called Dark Ages, children were not treated like this.

If you live in a state with one of these abusive "schools," please write your governor. Sign the petition online. Write your senator. Write your congressman. This is absurd. This is a shame on all of us.

** Tim Stainton. “Medieval Charitable Institutions and Intellectual Impairment.” Journal on Developmental Disabilities. 8 no. 2 (2001).
M. Carlin. “Medieval English hospitals.” The hospital in history. ed. L. Granshaw and R. Porter (London: Routledge, 1989), 21-40.


Anonymous said...

Very good points, but how do you convince people who want quick solutions to complicated problems or people who are desparate? I don't even know why I have to argue against something like this because it seems so obvious to me that maybe it's a bit mean and cruel to shock young people who already have developmental disabilities.


Eaquae Legit said...

I have no idea how to convince them. They are so far out of my sphere of comprehension that they are varelse, to use an OSC term.

I should be more kind, because I do know that severe behaviours are tough to deal with. The best I can come up with is removing the option. When it's not there, they'll have no choice but to do things the long, more effective way.

Val said...

There is a petition with over 2 thousand signatures on it thus far:


Hi - lastcrazyhorn from Odd One Out - http://lastcrazyhorn.wordpress.com

Hubba hubba to you for joining in.

You get lucky enough, Israel might post a comment on your blog like he did mine.

BTW, I'm linking you in my list of those posting about this. :)

Eaquae Legit said...

Thanks Val! How'd you find me, may I ask, since I'm not on the main link list?

I'm going to edit the petition link into the post. I'm glad to know about it!

Moggy said...

Excellent post -- there's no other way of putting it.

I read it yesterday, but just came back because of a bullsh*t claim in a news article that I suspected you might want to write the author about:

'Showdown Over Shock Therapy' in Boston Globe.

It asserts, pretty early on:

"Critics, who have long condemned the center's shock therapy as cruel and barbaric, now say they have been partially swayed by years of testimony from allies of the special education school ..."

I'M sure not swayed, I don't know anyone else that has been, and it doesn't sound you've been either. The idea that we are infuriates me, since it gives an air of legitimacy to the torture... The real reason that the new bill would only limit, not ban, skin-shocking people is because the bill's supporters feel they can't pass it the way things currently are.