Shock Therapy Doesn’t Belong In the Classroom, Except In Massachusetts, Apparently

The Judge Rotenberg Center is a highly unusual residential facility in Massachusetts serving intellectually and developmentally disabled students. It’s been controversial since its founding, and it has become a center of global attention after a number of news stories revealing one of the key things that sets it apart from other facilities: The use of “aversives” to behaviorally train students, particularly electric shock therapy.

Many disability advocates argue that aversives can be in fact be dangerous in addition to dehumanizing, and that they are also not terribly effective when it comes to achieving the desired goal. A former student says that: “Electric shocks only work as long as you are receiving them. They don’t teach you how to change your life.” At the Judge Rotenberg Center, students wear packs on their bodies with trailing leads connected to electrodes. Teachers and other personnel can issue shocks remotely in response to undesirable behaviors in an attempt to extinguish those behaviors by teaching students to associate them with pain.

Some supporters claim this approach is “lifesaving” and totally changes the lives of inmates, making it possible for them to engage more fully with the world around them. Satisfied students of the center and their families are often used as examples of model behavior produced by the shock therapy, while disgruntled or worried ex-students, their parents, and advocates are less likely to be heard.

Opponents say the supposed benefits of shock therapy come at a high price for these students, and that the use of aversive behavioral training like this is shameful and horrific. While the concept may be based in behavioral psychology, many argue that it’s inhumane. Students may be shocked scores of times over the course of a day in addition to being isolated or put in restraints. The Judge Rotenberg Center may be the only facility in the world that routinely shocks its students.

After being the subject of investigation, lawsuits and scrutiny, the facility is under fire again from advocates who want to see the end of the Judge Rotenberg Center, joining those who have been calling for it to be closed altogether since its educational style is so far from modern approaches to accessible education for disabled students. Numerous therapy options are available to help intellectually and developmentally disabled people learn coping strategies, develop communication tactics and work with the people around them. They do not have to involve tactics some compare to torture.

Numerous groups joined together earlier this month to send a letter to the federal government, asking it to stop funding the Judge Rotenberg School. That’s right: your tax dollars are paying to torture disabled students, some of whom have lived at the facility for decades. The missive from groups like The Arc and The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law was sent in the hopes that a recent warning letter from the FDA over the use of the electric shock devices could act as leverage, creating an opening to finally put an end to the deeply twisted approach to education and therapy practiced at the Judge Rotenberg Center.

Such practices may have been popular a century ago, but they should be long-dead now.

Take Action: Sign the petition to close the Judge Rotenberg School.


Related posts:

UN Calls For Investigation of Autism School’s Electric Shock Treatment

Special Ed Student Films NJ Teacher Bullying Him

Violence Against Children With Disabilities: Underreported and All Too Common


Photo credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine


Kate S.
Kate S5 years ago


Melissa L.
Melissa L5 years ago


Victoria L.
Victoria L5 years ago

After reading this article, one fact stands out more horrible than the shock of the shock therapy... and that is....
"That’s right: your tax dollars are paying to torture disabled students, some of whom have lived at the facility for decades."
The fact that archaic measures are being funded by the government is close to the government funding any type of torture.

Christine Jones
Christine J5 years ago

I don't for one moment condone electric shock as a teaching or training method. It used to be used on dogs and we now have more humane, effective methods. If we can do that for dogs, surely we can do it for students with disabilities.
However, I must protest at the use of a photograph which appears to be from the 1930's. This is somewhat disingenuous and designed to shock (pun intended).
Also, some on the discussion thread are confusing electric shock as a training method with ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) as a medical treatment. ECT can be very effective for patients with psychiatric disorders, who are unable to gain relief from conventional medications, due to allergies and other contraindications. It has been effective with bipolar disorder and psychosis. Nowdays, it is a gentle and well-supervised form of treatment, nothing like the idea most people understandably have in their minds from the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Things have changed.

Paul Hause
Paul H5 years ago

I'm reminded of the South Park episode where Cartman was implanted with the "V Chip" for using bad language. Laughable yes, until I read this thread.

But I do worry that this will become quite commonplace. I guess if we can't spank (which in my own life's experience only bred resentment) we now shock the hell out of a kid ? I'd hate to be a fly on the wall in a classroom where the teacher randomly asks a student to answer a simple math problem, the student gives a wrong answer, and ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT !!!

One school was featured on the evening news with one of those padded "safe rooms" for those with behavior disorders. Seeing as how schools are often run like jails, this would be akin to a "jail within a jail".

To borrow a line from Sheriff Buford T. Justice..."What is the world comin' to ?"

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you S. E. smith, for Sharing this!

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M5 years ago

A friends child who was in their late teens was told that they MUST have this shock therapy. No matter what words the mother said to the Drs about her child it went on deaf ears. The teenager although a bit of a genius didnt quite understand this gave them some leeway and so the teenager agreed and had quite a few shocks to 'kick ' and reprogramme guess this teenagers brain and to help that teenager from being bipolar etc. Now years down the track and this person i now in their 40's has put on a ton of weight from endless drugs and her personality has totally changed and the person is really a walking zombie and is cared for 24/7. Good on them for such a horrid invention and lack of care. In essence this young teenager was actually a guinea pig for science coerced by those Drs who were to care for her but were hoodwinked about this terrible therapy.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

I keep reading about this refugee from a horror movie and marveling the byline doesn't have a date somewhere in the 1950's.

The fact that the feds support this torture is no surprise. The government has been trying to make docile obedient puppets for many decades now.

It must end. Yesterday.

Tracey Gordon

Time to outlaw these draconian practices and replace them with something my holistic...

Lori Ann Hone
Lori Hone5 years ago

Why would medical practices go backwards by a 100 years, that so ridiculous!