Shock Therapy For Kids: Worse Than Doping Them Up On Drugs?

A school in Massachusetts is the country's last remaining educational institution to use shock therapy. Whoa, they still do that outside the confines of The Simpsons? The school, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, educates kids with severe autism and other behavioral problems so long as parents agree to make them wear backpacks sorta like doggy-shock collars, that allow staff members to "deliver a moderate shock to electrodes attached to the limbs" when they act up. The lawyer for Rotenberg, Mr. [Michael P.] Flammia, said the current has to hurt to work. He described the highest shock as "a hard pinch." But a former teacher from the school, who asked not to be named because he signed a confidentiality agreement as a condition of employment and fears he could be sued for speaking to a reporter, said he had seen children scream and writhe on the floor from the shock. And yet a Rotenberg parent insists her daughter is "not permanently scarred" and has meanwhile "really learned that certain behaviors, like running up and hitting people in the face, are not acceptable."

Here's the other dilemma: It's hard to prove shock therapy is to thank for the behavioral improvements experienced by a lot of kids at the school, because many of them were so doped up on antipsychotics. Which sorta demands the follow-up question: is shock therapy worse than doping up your kid on antipsychotics?

Incidentally, nursing homes have been trying to wean dementia patients off antipsychotics — though with less, er, shocking alternative treatments.

Meanwhile, investigators are looking into claims of abuse of the practice at Rotenberg. Most recently, one student was alleged to have received 77 shocks in a 3-hour time period. The reason? A prank pulled by faculty members. (Oh Christ, seriously?) Children receiving extreme burns are a result of the shock therapy are also a frequent source of investigation.

Incidentally, it costs a parent $228,000 a year to send his or her child to Rotenberg to be subject to such practices.

And yet parents like Handon claim they would choose Rotenberg for their children again in a heartbeat. Handon insists that it is the shock therapy that has rendered her 20-year old daughter Crystal, "the sweetest girl alive," into an essentially functioning member of society. After four years at Rottenberg, Handon says that Crystal has gone from a girl who "would bite herself on her arms and legs until she bled" and "throw furniture and shatter windows," to a young woman who is "is learning to control herself." Says Handon, ""She loves that place. If she knows she is returning from vacation on a Monday, on Saturday she will pack her bags and start begging to go." Crystal received 200 shocks in her first month at Rottenberg. This past month she received four.

Parents Defend School's Use Of Shock Therapy [NYT]
Electroconvulsive therapy Wikipedia