Photos: Inside Preston Castle, a former Reformatory for incorrigible young men, Ione, CA.
I came across an article shared by my friend Sara Gelser on Facebook this morning. Sara is an Oregon State Representative, Chair of the House Education Committee, founding member of the Senior and Disability Caucus, and was recently appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on Disability which was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate. Sara is not just another politician. She is also mother to Sam. Both Sam and my son Justin have FG Syndrome, an obscure genetic syndrome that presents itself through a variety of physical and mental anomalies. For this very reason, we both have a deep interest in the rights of those with special needs.
The title of the article Sara posted caught my attention immediately, “UN Calls Shock Treatment at Mass. School Torture”. Shock treatment in America?! Hadn’t that archaic, inhumane treatment been eradicated a long time ago right alongside the horrific frontal lobotomy and hypothermia inducing ice baths? I mean, come on now. The field of Psychology with its Cognitive Behavior Therapy moved out of the dark ages eons ago. Or so I thought. I began reading the article thinking there must be some mistake here. But no mistake. It seems the Judge Rotenberg Center for special needs children utilizes the “skin shock treatment” for about half of its 250 students. When they exhibit “undesirable behavior” they get “hooked up to a special machine and administered an electric shock.” Really.
Being a parent of any child is a challenging task. Add to that a child who has special needs and severe emotional and behavioral issues and the task at times seems insurmountable. I empathize deeply with the parents of said children. I really do out of personal experience. Granted, the majority of individuals hooked up to this wonder machine are extreme behavioral cases who have been known to inflict great harm upon themselves. However, to me, making the decision to agree to such extreme measures smells of Chinese water torture, dark hidden dungeons with dangling chains and a whole pack of Pavlov’s snarling, drooling dogs at one’s feet.
Even the doctor behind the administration of this “therapy” admits the shocking is not a painless affair. “And if it didn’t hurt it wouldn’t be effective,” said Israel. “It has to hurt enough so that the student wants to avoid showing that behavior again.” I don’t know about you, but if I were being abused over and over again, being shocked up to 40 times a week, I also would do anything to make that pain go away.
This type of treatment would be considered highly unethical and outrage would rule the day if it were being utilized on our prisoners against their will. But the victims here are children people! And no one is asking their permission. This doctor presents it as a viable last resort to vulnerable parents who are at their wit’s end and a judge actually makes a ruling that gives them permission to proceed. This same judge would never agree to such treatment of terrorist prisoner’s at Guantanamo Bay, understanding the international outrage that would follow.
There is an unfortunate undercurrent at work here that has existed since the day institutions were created to house those less fortunate than ourselves. That undercurrent tends quite often to view people with severe disabilities as something less than human; something akin to dogs who require shock collars to correct unwanted behaviors.
There are proven alternative and humane therapies that exist in the world of psychology that work to redirect these unwanted behaviors, no matter the severity. So why choose to send your child to a school that utilizes an extremely controversial and outdated method of behavioral therapy? Perhaps it is due to Dr. Israel’s ability to convince even the most critical. I mean hey, he was able to convince a judge. Just remember this, as your child winces in pain every time the staff pushes a button that sends the shock to correct that “unwanted behavior”, that this doctor’s professional pockets are being well-padded with a portion of the $200,000 per student per year price tag that is financing this abuse.