Shock therapy for kids to be phased out
By BILL LAMBDIN
It’s a practice many people probably didn’t know was going on-using electric shocks to control especially difficult students. For many years New York has allowed the treatment.
Now that’s changing. The Board of Regents voted to phase out most electric shocks.
Not everyone says that’s the right decision.
Those pushing to do away with the shock therapy say it is a brutal way to treat human beings, especially children. But there are others-including some parents-who say nothing else has worked.
When a school district had a developmentally disabled student who continued to act out or attack others, where normal discipline wasn’t working and positive reinforcement was unsuccessful, they’d sent the child out of state to a Boston-area facility-the Judge Rotenberg Center.
“We have not yet developed institutions that can handle these kids. I wish we could. We are spending a fortune,” Westchester County Regent Harry Phillips said.
At a cost of $209,000 a student, New York is spending a total of $52 million a year.
To change the bad behavior, kids at the Rotenberg Center would be hooked up with electrodes to their stomachs and legs and required to wear a back pack at all times. Then if they misbehaved, staff would give them a two second jolt of electricity, described as a static shock times 10. Some students were getting 40 shocks a day.
The Regents were persuaded to phase out the electro shocks by advocates like Dr. Alisha Broderick of Columbia University.
“I think it requires seeing them as somewhat less than fully human in order to be able to, in any good conscience, apply these kind of dehumanizing techniques,” Broderick said.
But as strongly as some believed this was a barbaric practice, others argued it was the only thing that was getting through. The family of Samantha Shears says she was hitting herself so often she was going blind.
“And if this is going to be so severe that it’s going to hurt her enough to think ‘I don’t want to get that thing. So I will do anything I can. I will stop hitting myself. I will do whatever it takes so I don’t get that shock.’ And you know something? It worked,” Samantha’s mother said.
Students currently receiving electro shocks can continue with the treatment, although the regents significantly tightened up the procedures and rules.
But as of 2009 no new students are supposed to receive the shocks. The special schools will be required to use positive reinforcements only.