Let's have some more friendly dialogue please.
I am bewildered by the irony behind what I have in common with famed investigative journalist of psychiatry, Robert Whitaker, of course on a much smaller scale, as the words us both have been entered within the online pages of Truthout, a publication for the “fearless.”
BF Skinner taught us how to be grandiose with his dream for the scientific design of culture. Try it! You might like it!
Leave your data sheets on the antecedents and consequences to the "problem behaviors" of autistic children back in the office! Go home, get online, and teach the activists how to save humanity, how to save the planet! You alone can wean the world off its compulsion to “punishment run amok” and teach it the “alternatives to punishment” your science has discovered!
Teach activists how to reward politicians who do the right thing. Their primary approach is to make demands. They walk around with a sign, get in the way of other people who are trying to do their jobs, climb down to the ground, and lie on their backs so nobody can pick them up. How is that supposed to help them? They need your guidance!
I’d love to hop aboard to the back seat of the bus of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) social-responsibility special-interest-groups and follow your lead, but before we can succeed, your profession has need for ethical improvements.
I have described myself as an inquirer and contributor into the ethics of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). I aim to help the profession repair its much-sullied, at times unfair, and at times well-justified, ethics reputation. I have given you some nuts and bolts methods behind a parent-with-autistic-child, “dual-consent-to-behavior-modification-treatment argument” which can defend you against the valid Achilles’ Heel arguments the public uses successfully against you, including, for example, the “ABA-control-freak argument,” which parallels the argument that professional sports attracts only athletes into its ranks, and the “Lord-Acton-behaviorism-is-dangerous argument,” which states, "Science is powerful. Scientific technology is employed by humans. Therefore, human science is the most powerful of all sciences. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Behaviorism in the hands of a tyrant would be extremely dangerous. Behaviorism is therefore dangerous."
The right to dual consent, if only granted, will block the shock advocates who are damaging your profession's reputation. Consent and dissent are two sides of the same coin of autonomy. If they would only listen to the kids in the "school" near Boston who are screaming out loud for them to "leave them alone," then the "torture" there would stop.
Méndez (2013, p. 85), the United Nations "Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," investigated the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) and concluded,
Therefore and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Special Rapporteur determines that the rights of the students of the JRC subjected to Level III Aversive Interventions by means of electric shock and physical means of restraints have been violated under the UN Convention against Torture and other international standards.We can analyze together the flow of JRC money and figure out why JRC is such a thorn in the ABA side. Eight years ago, according to one account, JRC had "900 employees and annual revenues exceeding $56 million, (and charged) $220,000 a year for each student. States and school districts (picked) up the tab." (Gonnerman, 2007, p. 1)
In March, 2010 alone, JRC paid $20,000 to lobbyist Edward D. Krenik of Bracewell and Giuliani, an EPA liaison to Congress in the Bush administration, in order to “persuade senators to provide an exemption — in legislation that would deny federal funding to schools that physically restrain students — for the court-approved electric shocks that the Judge Rotenberg Center uses with some of its students." (Zeller, CQ Weekly, July 12, 2010)
What I Have in Common With Robert Whitaker
So at the bottom of their Whitaker page, truth-out.org placed a “related stories” link to my blog and to my first person Truthout op-ed against a mental health gun check registry. Levine (2014) entitled the interview: "Psychiatry Now Admits It's Been Wrong in Big Ways - But Can It Change?" He said,
Whitaker had documented evidence that standard drug treatments were making many patients worse over the long term, and he detailed the lack of science behind these treatments…. For Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award for best investigative journalism. This and other acclaim made it difficult for establishment psychiatry to ignore him, so he was invited to speak at many of their bastions, including a Harvard Medical School Grand Rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he faced hostile audiences. However, Whitaker's sincerity about seeking better treatment options, his command of the facts and his lack of anti-drug dogma compelled all but the most dogmatic psychiatrists to take him seriously.Truthout call their website: “fearless, independent news and opinion.” Noam Chomsky is a “contributing writer.”
Their mission is “to spark action by revealing systemic injustice and providing a platform for transformative ideas, through in-depth investigative reporting and critical analysis. With a powerful, independent voice, we will spur the revolution in consciousness and inspire the direct action that is necessary to save the planet and humanity.”
My Qualifications as a Proud Disabled Peer-Advocate
The editor of Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics Newsletter for the Network on Intellectual Disabilities, Dr. Robert Veatch, published my blog review of the Matter of M.R., the custody case of a young woman from late in the past century when it was less objectionable to read the words "mental retardation." (Today there's a movement “championed” by the voice of slow learners called “R-word: Spread the word to end the word.”) M.R. wanted the right to choose which home between her loving parents she preferred to reside. In a broad disability rights ruling, the NJ Supreme Court recognized the need for a balance of rights among incapacitated adults: the right to autonomy with the right to have a guardian look after one's own welfare.
Since 2007 I have spoken straight from my blog about the ethics of behavior modification, free and clear of any peer review (which might be called professional peer pressure).
This year, I am thrilled to say, a disability-governed nonprofit organization, MOCEANS Center for Independent Living, has granted me the title I requested of advocate, which we have described as follows: “Volunteer disabled self-advocate, peer-advocate, and disability-related systems-wide advocate.” I am not speaking for them now as they have yet to review this post, but the joy I've had volunteering with MOCEANS on an off since about 1995 has been stunning.
I am one among umpteen million peer-advocates with various disabilities. There are at least two autistic researchers who publish highly regarded papers about ABA ethics. See Dawson (2004) and Brown (2014). We have the unique ability to demonstrate some self-evident disability rights truths for the benefit of non-disabled people, truths which they cannot know from first-hand experience as long as they remain “healthy.” By definition, therefore, we, at times, rely on our own stories to intrigue readers, reinforce philosophical and human science principles, develop arguments, and illustrate case studies.
My Internet Adventures with ABA Professionals
Here is my problem: at times, it feels to me, something about my communication style or tone of voice with some ABA internet groups provokes in a few members some mild, ad hominem, personalized character critiques, and a couple groups have blocked me out of their membership when I followed the rules and asked some tough questions. ABA groups are touchy when people challenge their use of coercion, despite the admonitions of their founder, B.F. Skinner, against the use of punishment. Indeed, certificated professional behaviorism has strayed morally from Skinner. Of course, no professional wants to hear this kind of assertion, but I follow with facts.
It’s okay. I’m used to it. Whenever people seem to be saying, “I’m making it all about Dave,” I might eagerly reply, “Okay, then enough about me. What do you think about me?” Of course, that’s just a joke, but many a true word is said in jest.
I admit I'm a bit of an ABA gadfly. I know I’m no Socrates and none of us are, but each of us stands as a unique human being way up above him, upon the shoulders of the greats who set their own shoes down firmly upon his shoulders. Bare of foot in unwashed clothes, in front of the youth in the market square, he asked pretentious Ancient Greek elders his hard-to-refute, argumentative questions and made them look like "fools." While Athens was hoping to put him to death by trial, rather than escape, as Xenophon and Plato told us, he defiantly said he'd be better off dead, and in sync with his own principle of obedience toward the city-state social contract he had encorsed, he drank poison hemlock and immortalized himself.
As you as Walt Whitman, traveling bard and civil war nurse, in the first of his 1336 lines of “Song of Myself,”
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more,
Than I'll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.
I would like to announce that since I became disabled from teaching many years ago, I have not taken a single penny for any of this ABA ethics work I am describing.
Unfortunately, however, something about my presentation seems to irk a few vocal ABA professionals. I thank the many who sit back quietly reading my essays and comments, also bewildered, perhaps, behaviorists who join with my 4500 Twitter followers and those who have viewed my website on the ethics of ABA during its 50,000 non-spam-referral-traffic hits since 2007. As I reference Lavigna's publications on the alternatives to punishment, though, a good number engage me with on-topic replies, even agreements. One person suggested I take a leading role as an ethics policy assistant to the profession. I replied I would welcome an ABA conference request to join an ethics panel or a “painful electroshock therapy” debate. Another tried to keep me from getting kicked out of this internet group, chimed into the same thread, and for my own benefit said I was talking about myself too much.
A few ABA group members have mildly impugned my motives with labels such as deceptive-by-way-of-concealed-intention and attention-seeking, which contradict each other. I'm not saying enough and I'm saying too much. My website has always been available with a front-page description regarding the aim of the project and I keep my name and picture down from the internet as much as I can.
Some behaviorists online don’t know how to handle my comments. Others are quite appropriate as they sit back quietly during a controversy. They seem to be aware of the fact that ethics is an emotionally charged topic. An ABA professor told me by email my "reward and consent" theme is "trite," but when I asked him to review my website, he said he wouldn't know where to begin. One guy asked me if he could archive my work and when I asked him if I could join the associated ABA network he couldn't say yes at the time, possibly because it was still in the planning stage without the approval of the groups. That was reasonable, but I was angry and I told him not to archive it. From time to time, though I follow group rules, right out in front of me, members tell each other to ignore me. During a heated debate, someone said my behavior is beyond their power to control it, as though asking, "What are we to do?" Meanwhile, another said, and I paraphrase: If we can't listen to "trolls" like Dave, who have read as much ABA as we have, then how can we object to the real internet trolls?
I've seen a differential reinforcement of my alternative behavior as one character was "liking" my comments in a completely different thread while not clicking "like" on my simultaneous thread. It felt like a poker hand we both had enjoyed.
Meanwhile I enjoy it when Google analytics tells me they’re reading my blog from one page to another ad infinitum. I can see where on the net they are coming from, but I don’t know who they are individually.
A writing coach, Bob Anstett, warned me about the metaphor. We don't "deal with children." He was entirely correct, but I love to drop my Ace card trump down on their behalf, the “upside-down and Golden-Rule-of-behavioral-ethics argument.” I ask electric shock advocates to let someone more powerful than them deliver them shock exactly as they administer it to disabled children so they know how their schedules of aversives feel at precisely the same intensity, frequency, and duration and so they might empathize with the victims of shock and not do unto others what they would never want done unto themselves.
As a Mother Jones journalist, Gonnerman (2007, p.1) investigated the Judge Rotenberg Center and wrote about Rob who used to live there:
"It hurts like hell," Rob says. (The school's staff claim it is no more painful than a bee sting; when I tried the shock, it felt like a horde of wasps attacking me all at once. Two seconds never felt so long.)Yet shock advocates tout their ability to "provide" shock as an alternative to drugs. On the other hand, some autistics, a main target of shock, can have delusional symptoms, since different disorders can overlap. So how many "autistics" (which is the preferred term of autistic advocates instead of people with autism) are denied their right to a medication regimen while petrified from deep inside the walls of the Massachusetts "school of shock"?
Has the school-of-shock staff ever stuck a single finger live inside a light socket? I did once as a curious boy. I've also taken anti-psychotics since 1979. Let me tell you unequivocally, by a long shot, I'd rather have the meds. Nobody who has ever felt both can render such an authoritative decision potentially on behalf of a disabled child. To my knowledge, however, disabled adults do not sit with the "professionals" on the behavior change teams who determine the fates of these kids and then deny them the right to dissent.
How intensely the "electroshock therapy" shock renders itself into a form of abuse is a self-evident truth that only the former students of the school of shock can truly report. So to what extent are their current underage "prisoners" allowed to speak out publicly without intimidation? It's a silly question. This would be impossible under threat of "torture."
When an ABA internet group member couldn't handle this kind of reasoning, he ran with the internet troll approach. I told him that some young gays use the word troll to mean “dirty, old homosexual letch.” I wasn't hurt though, because my mentor, on the other hand, who would now be about eighty-eight had he lived past his mid-eighties, showed me the beauty of old age and extra-wide girth, both of which I am proud to behold in ever-expanding numbers. He loved older men. On the day he died his hand-holding housemate was almost ninety. As long as I don’t pretend to be stylish, young, fit, and pretty, something I’m not, “Nate the Great” said to me, they will never resist the lure of my confidence. Now I can’t keep all these chubby-chasing, gerontophile, polar bear lusters off me with a wooden spoon.
My Promise of Friendship with ABA's
I wish to assure you individually. I am your potential friend. I want what you want: behavioral solutions to worldwide problems. The public often finds your work distasteful. Worldwide application will never happen while they maintain a sometimes realistic “Clockwork Orange” interpretation of some horrendous ABA practices, the worst of which, the most visible of which, the profession-at-large cannot admit is a fault.
The mainstream corporate media froths at the mouth over the sensationalized nature of the JRC story. Advocates frequently say they are preventing the worst consequences of severely challenging behavior: self-inflicted injury, blindness, and death, but only on unusual occasion will the public hear them volunteer the fact that JRC staff triggers their patented Contingent Skin Shock devices to punish “students” for making a raucous in “class” and for disobeying commands. ABA internet group members were surprised to hear this when I cited to ABA internet groups an online document Michelle Dawson led me to find: an abstract of an ABA conference symposium where the founder of JRC told an audience of his peers how they shock these poor kids for disruptive behavior and for noncompliance, in addition to self-injury and physical aggression. (Israel, 2009, search here with "event # 403.")
Do they allow them to bolt? I doubt it, but for my own protection, I’m not supposed to call them prisoners, according to one well-intentioned analyst.
So I am one of many advocates who want JRC closed. In following some of my Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) advisers, I intend to prepare a list of settings that might take these children off their hands and treat them well, if such a list can be made. I hope we can educate the parents of JRC kids about these places. I am asking for your help in compiling a list of good ABA alternative to JRC.
There is another option, but I have ruled it out. I’m not an attorney, nor have I ever written a code of professional ethics, so my own reading therefore is necessarily inconclusive, but according to my independent reading of their currently active disciplinary rules, the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) can remove the certifications of BCBA's who cause serious harm, but only if the professional community-at-large normally disapproves of such harmful interventions. (BACB, 2014, Standard 6B says they can issue professional "sanctions" for "professional conduct that constitutes an extreme and unjustified deviation from the customary standard of practice accepted in the applied behavior analytic community and that creates a serious risk of harm to or deception of consumers.")
A Google Scholar search of major ABA journals returned no JRC results. As seen from my perspective, the entire profession, with some praiseworthy exceptions, would rather poke their head in the sand and hope the JRC issue crumbles into yellow pieces of old newspaper clippings far away from from the scrutinizing eyes of USA citizens sitting in shock as they read about it now, or else JRC advocates defend it. In their general silence, one by one, and with exceptions, the profession is complicit in JRC torture, such as it can be argued. So how can we expect the certification board to remove the certificates of the BCBA's who govern on the JRC's board? Besides, my work is not about punishment. It is much about the alternatives to punishment.
Therefore, I will not ask the BACB to investigate any staff members, BCBA's, PhD's, or bankers involved at the JRC.
How I Disliked the Fame I Once Had
So permit me to tell you a story about ad hominem character attacks. I had substantial fame in New Jersey at the turn of the millennium. For a while I led in the movement to take the NJ gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersexed (GLBTQI) community and their friends and families away from the bars. For two full years I threw the gayest party away from alcohol the state had ever known. I started and ran a coffeehouse gathering just about every Wednesday in Red Bank. It averaged seventy-one heads per week. The maximum count was 120. I wrote an email newsletter covering other gay bar alternatives. It was a bit autobiographical. I spoke about our strong ties with the alcohol industry. The triCity News interviewed me by email and ran with a two-page cover story. I asked for no picture. The Asbury Park Press picked up the story. People knew me by my internet handle, DaveShmave, well before they met me. I introduced new members to tables of guys who eagerly anticipated their arrivals. The NJ Lesbian and Gay Coalition honored me with the 2001 Achievement Award, after the Coalition had already made NJ one of the first non-discrimination states. Despite a former Coalition president objection, they followed my wish to print the banquet brochure without my picture. I asked for a pitcher of water at the cash bar affair and spoke against the gay alcohol industry. Newspapers in North Jersey covered our awards. The Red Bank Hub featured mine. I asked for more help. It didn't arrive. I sent an angry email to 450 email addresses and lists. Then the Red Bank coffees disbanded, due to out-of-control youth and our lack of support for them. Gatherers gave me a thank you card with about twenty signatures. I still treasure it. Other coffees emerged, one in Trenton, another for the New Brunswick area.
Then I was ostracized. It had been “all about Dave,” according to some. Except for occasions with my ex-lover and our imaginary friends, Roz Abrams, Sam Champion and all the rest of the gang at the Six O’clock, Eyewitness News Team (We were funny, right?), all those guys who had met each other through my formal invitations invited me only twice to their parties and then never again. I was permanently kicked out of an after-closing, sober-up restaurant in Asbury Park for asking somebody politely to hold her cigarette in the air instead of letting it stench inside the ashtray and smoke into my face. If I showed up at a bar, people would ask, “What are you doing here?”
I was told that a group of the youth wound up shooting pool in a segregated, non-alcoholic room inside the walls of the most popular GLBT dance club in Monmouth County.
I have forgiven everybody and I hope they have forgiven my mistakes, but now, though I have some wonderful friends, I have only one active gay friend, my handyman, and one disabled elderly friend who is out of contact. There is only one other gay man who communicates with me now, in Spanglish, a local Latino guy from the club, when I when I see him passing by on his bike.
When I see the old faces I remind them that I am disabled and so are alcoholics, so I am not better than they are.
What I’m telling you with this story is this. I know fame. I didn’t like it after I had it and I don’t want it now. If it occurs, I will let it happen, but only because I am offering my personal story in service toward the pinnacle dream of Skinner, scientific design of culture, so kindly stop it with the attention-seeker remarks.
How I Want to Participate in Friendly ABA Dialogue
So this letter amounts to the following. It’s up to each ABA group online to decide whether or not they want my help. Please allow me to participate in the manner I choose, as long as I follow the rules, or else give me the boot. If you do, I will continue to help you, but only as an outsider, until I am allowed back in. I will continue to speak in the first person to ABA groups. People may object with my style and I will defend myself. I will simply provide a link to this page and then drop the subject. It’s up to the leaders of ABA internet groups to remove me or not. I am thankful to those who have decided not to let me go. I will not be offended if they dismiss me now, but I will be hurt. So if they want me out, sooner is better than later. Please do it now if you must.
I remain yours truly,
P.S. Were it not for the promise of your profession to help save the world, I would never have written all this.