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"Therefore and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Special Rapporteur determines that the rights of the students of the JRC (Judge Rotenberg Center) 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 (Méndez, 2013, p. 85, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)."
Here are just some of the names and organizations behind the movement to close the JRC: 1) Mike Beaudet, "Investigative Reporter/Anchor at WFXT-TV FOX25 (on Twitter)" (sensitivity alert: graphic shock video), whose team convinced a justice to allow the public to witness actual JRC shock footage for the first time; 2) Gregory Miller, whistleblowing former JRC teacher; 3) Cheryl McCollins, mother of the JRC "shock victim" who sued the JRC and settled for an undisclosed amount; 4) Andre McCollins, her son (trigger alert: graphic shock video); 5) Jennifer Msumba, emancipated "shock victim" whose lawsuit is underway; 4) Benjamin R. Novotny, Esq., attorney for both plaintiffs, partner at Lubin and Meyer who can be contacted in Boston; 5) Shain M. Neumeier, Esq., eyewitness notetaker throughout almost the entire trial who wrote a seven-part report called "The Judge Rotenberg Center On Trial." 6,7) Laurie Ahern, President, and Eric Rosenthal, Esq., Executive Director, authors of the Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) investigative report entitled "Torture not treatment: Electric shock and long-term restraint in the United States on children and adults with disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center: Urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture;" and 8) the majority of the sixty-three public voices who submitted documents to the FDA docket before the 2014 meeting of the FDA's Neurological Devices Panel whose "slight majority"...concluded (p. 4) that "ESDs (JRC's electrical stimulation devices) intended to administer a noxious electrical stimulus for the treatment of SIB (self-injurious behavior) and aggressive behavior presented a substantial and unreasonable risk of illness or injury."
Anna Kosovskaya adds another voice to the short list of JRC survivors with enough courage and fortitude to speak out. After this preface is her self-report on some of her life experiences before, during, and after the traumatic years she underwent at JRC. In the opinion of this blogger, Anna's work represents a major contribution to the unfolding story of what's really going on inside that place from the perspective that ought to weigh most heavily in anyone's assessment of the drama, the real-life experiences of the truly-free-to-speak individuals who were at one time the actual "subjects" of JRC's and ABA's "compliance training" methodologies.
It is possible to scroll through this preface and go straight to her interview and still understand her story. By reading into the preface, however, it is hoped that the visitor to this blog can gain some additional insights into some of the issues behind it.
Its more ethical sister profession, in theory if not in deed (see further below), is called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS/PBS). While ABA is keen on punishment and penalty (see below), PBS is against it, theoretically. PBS is more of an educational field with members who can provide principals with school-wide systems of positive reinforcement of prosocial behavior. This science is entirely capable of replacing school-wide demerit, detention, suspension, and expulsion programs strictly designed to enforce "handbook" rules with punishments and penalties for failure to follow the "student dress code," for instance, as this author had specifically witnessed in the mid-1980s when he was a Catholic high school Accounting, Economics, and Business Law teacher.
PBS is not a subset of ABA. Their programs, though some of it overlaps, contain mutually exclusive elements. They two disciplines contain fundamental disagreements regarding the proper role of punishment (presenting aversive stimuli such a electric shock), penalty (withholding desired items such as the so-called "privilege" to join a class outing), extinction (a teacher completely ignoring over the long run, down to an almost zero level of occurrence rates, the "inappropriate" calling out in class of a student who does not raise her hands and wait for the teacher to recognize her before speaking out of turn) and the "wide array" of non-aversive alternatives to punishment for the rate reduction, elimination, and prevention of unwanted behaviors (See some of them below.). Representatives from both professions still engage one another in productive, yet heated debates over which methodology is more effective and ethical than the other.
There is also the field of Neuropsychology which physically examines the inner workings of the brain as it reacts to an individual's environmental stimuli and events within which human and nonhuman animals engage their lives all throughout their day-to-day encounters with the world that surrounds them. Neuropsychologists might borrow from the teachings of behavioral science to analyze electronically derived brain images of the reward centers of the brain as stimulated, detected, and lit up on a computer screen by the experimental presentation of food during the food-deprivation states of particular organisms, for example.
A somewhat different branch of psychology is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It adds a behavioral science component to its thought-process focus.
Different from Behavioral Psychology is the "Cognitive Science" of the "mind." The founder of the philosophy called Radical Behaviorism, B. F. Skinner, however, stood against the "mentalism" he witnessed taking place in cognitive psychology. He argued that "mind" is an "explanatory fiction." When psychologists focus on an autonomous, behavior-generating mental state, an independently choosing, behavior-causing free will, they attribute internal events, often exclusive of external causes, as the primary agents of behavior change. This interferes with a highly observable scientific investigation into the true causes of behavior, the interaction of the organism with its environment, so he often said. When the cognitive psychologist concludes, for example, that a full grown, healthy man "chooses to go the market because he desires food," the investigation stops there, dead in its tracks. What kind of food he had previously enjoyed there would play no role in the cognitive investigation into the true cause of the trip to the store. The cognitive scheme is incomplete at best and misleading at worst.
Skinner did not deny the existence of thoughts and feelings, however. He spoke of them as covert behaviors occurring under the skin, as opposed to fully-observable body motions which illustrate very well the meaning of overt behaviors. Therefore, therapeutic and environmental manipulations of a person's overall repertoire of potentially emitted behaviors, both internal and external, can not only influence the rate of occurrence of the overt, objective behaviors, for example, by encouraging an independently developing teenager to walk safely to Chipotle Mexican Grill for a non-GMO meal, they can also influence the covert, internally-observed and subjective behaviors, such as the internal thought processes that occur when a teacher informs a fourth grader that she has memorized and recited all her multiplication tables correctly. The teacher can also influence the student's thinking when she marks up her fraction problem solutions with green-pen check marks beside all her correctly derived answers. Thereby she avoids the debilitatingly harsh red-pen, over-correction marks splotted across her math papers. In the end, the positively oriented teacher influences not only her inner mathematical ideas, making her more likely to answer her problems correctly, she also influences her inner feelings, by showing emphasizing what she did well rather than what she did "poorly." This is how good teachers help their students feel proud and happy rather than ashamed and demoralized. The highly skilled math instructor always teaches the child mathematical techniques for self-correcting her own work.
At this juncture the argument between the internal and external locus of control, as seen in debate between cognitive and behavioral scientists, proves pointless. When the highly skilled behavioralist teaches toward independence, it is a weak argument to devalue behavioralism purportedly because it sends the locus of control out from inside the person to the environment. Consider the motivation involved in playing a musical instrument. Reinforcement to a guitarist comes from hearing the sound of the strings when a good teacher guides the student, one skill at a time, always selecting remarkable pieces, no matter how simple or complex, gradually upping the challenge level, building upon previously learned skills, and advancing in grade levels up the scales of the Mel Bay songbooks, for example, and shapes the child into a virtuoso performer playing beauty more astounding than the teacher ever dreamed of playing, bringing out the next Stevie Wonder singing Ave Maria as accompanied by his own lyrical harmonica! Is it the inner singing ear or the outer sound waves bouncing across the room that causes such an awesome performance? The question is moot. It's both!
A critically important distinguishing characteristic between overt and covert behaviors lies in the degree of certitude people may hold in the actual existence of either form of behavior in a person who is being observed. The existence of someone else's body motion is much more credible to the listener/observer than the inner, subjective thoughts and feelings that a speaker is supposedly reporting. So when USA President Richard Nixon said, "I'm not a crook" while the television camera caught him clenching his fist, then it was reasonable but inconclusive of the public to doubt this self-report of the trustworthy nature he claimed to possess. His overt behavior (fist-clenching) indicated he was not such a nice guy after all, despite his words to the contrary.
The verbal behavior of the philosopher Sissela Bok can direct the discussion at this point. She wrote Lying, Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. To paraphrase her work, she defined lying as stating a falsity as though it were true while holding the belief that the statement is nonetheless false. In effect, behaviorally speaking, Nixon's critics were claiming he had a covert belief in the falsity of the statements he knowingly and dishonestly claimed were true. They were saying he intended to lie and he knew very well he was in fact lying. To reach this conclusion over time they examined not only his photographic fists of anger, but all of his public actions, throughout his entire public career, and then charged him with being an inveterate liar. The covert essence of the lie, however, makes it difficult to prove, so early in his political career he became known as Tricky Dick. It was easier to demonstrate he played tricks on his audiences than it was to show that he lied, since to know for sure that he had lied, one would need access to his brain activity, which only he could decipher, which nobody else could possible sense. The overall evidence was overwhelming, however, so that soon after the Watergate Scandal broke out to the public, in 1974 the United States citizenry forced the 37th President to resign from office, climb aboard an airplane, and wave goodbye to the world with a good-looking smile on his face. Perhaps he was glad it was over.
So Radical Behavioralism as just discussed is a philosophy. Philosophy is know to ask more questions than it answers. Science is supposed to use logic in rigorous experimental pursuit of truth to provide answers, if not permanent, then at least temporary answers. For the lover of philosophy, Karl Popper (1935, free download), wrote an intriguing treatise on the advantages of deductive versus inductive scientific reasoning see Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Suffice it to say for the purpose of this preface that empirical science can provide more definite answers than arm-chair, speculative philosophy is capable of asserting.
So the science of behavioral psychology as it is currently known, ABA included, is chiefly derived, along with the early 1900's reflex experiments of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, from the "pioneering" behavioral psychology experiments of the same B. F. Skinner of Harvard University who designed the philosophy of Radical Behavioralism as partially discussed above. Skinner wrote a few preliminary scientific journal reports and then in 1938 he published Behavior of Organisms in which he described how he placed hungry rats into carefully-controlled mechanical "chambers" and caused them to discover how to press and then continually press levers (response) contingent upon immediate mechanical delivery of pellets of grain (positive reinforcers). The inventor charted their response rates algebraically with the up-pips of a stylus, one tic per press of the lever, with which he drew various response-rate-curves across sheets of paper he mounted upon a slowly revolving drum. Skinner discovered what he called "operant conditioning," the selection of behaviors with reference to the immediate consequences of behavior.
Prior to Skinner and his lab rats, Pavlov had already discovered classical or respondent conditioning, but with a different species. He presented food to dogs; then he rang a bell with the presence of food; then he rang it without food. He cut a slit into their faces whereby saliva dripped through the opening and down into a collector. His laboratory animals first salivated to the food, then to the bell with the food, and then to the bell sounding without the presence of food. He conditioned them to associate the bell with the delivery of food, even in the absence of food.
For this same reason, but with an aversive stimulus rather than with the unconditioned appetitive stimulus, food, when a Rotenberg Center staff member painfully administers electric skin shock to a Rotenberg client for getting out of bed without permission, for example, the client is taught to fear not only the shock, but also the staff member. Staff begins as a neutral stimulus. Then he presses the remote control shock button and pinpoints a behavior, "no getting out of bed without permission." His visual image and the sound of his voice are instantaneously paired with the unconditioned aversive stimulus, shock. At that point the client associates the man and his voice with shock, since they are simultaneously grouped together during his delivery of shock. Automatically, then, the JRC staff member and then later the sound of his footsteps approaching from down the hall while the client is trying to relax in bed, amount to conditioned aversive stimuli. The man becomes someone to avoid and escape, if this is at all possible for a JRC client to do, and as Anna makes in known, it is not so easy to do.
Pavlov showed that preceding stimuli cause certain reflexes to respond, often regardless of after-the-fact consequences. Therefore, the ophthalmologist's puff of air causes the eye to blink and the physician's mallet to the kneecap causes the knee to jerk whether or not the doctor has been smiling at his patients' knee jerks every time they show up for the jerk. The jerk is a reflex rather than an example of operant behavior. The jerk is automatic under the mallet tap, regardless of the consequences that occur after the jerk presents itself. The prior stimulus, the mallet, causes the jerking. We can label this phenomenon the "mallet jerks."
The effect of operant conditioning, on the other hand, as Skinner demonstrated empirically, greatly depends upon the nature of the consequences occurring after the response. To help his readers discriminate between respondents and operants, he said the reflex stimulus elicits the reflex response while the organism emits an operant response (foraging for food), which "operates" upon the environment (the forest), which in turn causes the presentation or removal of appetitive or aversive stimuli (ripe berries found, tiger in the path, all berries gone, tiger runs away (when the man throws his spear)), which in turn alter the probability that the response will reoccur in a similar environment (the rate of foraging behavior in that part of the forest is modified), which means that the schedules over time of relevant reinforcing or punishing stimuli alter the rate of response as measured over time during subsequent trials under the same kind of stimulation or events. The consequences are major independent variables which cause changes in the dependent variable, the rate of operant response. Under the consequence action the propensity to respond is stamped into the body in an altered state. So the consequence affects what happens later and so unlike the reflex when the preceding stimulus causes a change in the subsequent response, the consequence alters the ongoing rate of operant response as played out in the future. In the reflex the relevancy of the stimulus is that it precedes the response. In the operant, the relevancy of the stimulus is that it follows the response.
Under the consequence the rate of response permutates with the shifting tangent line adjacent to the rate of response over time curve. (Author's note: Editing a new paragraph to insert here.)
In sum, the propensity of the organism to behave under similar conditions is determined by relevant 1) (A)ntecedent environmental situations (a section of the forest), 2) (B)ehavioral responses (foraging), and 3) immediate or quickly acting environmental (C)onsequences (as illustrated above). Depending on the nature of the consequence, all three parts together form the ABCs of the four basic contingencies, adding or removing appetitive or aversive stimuli: 1) positive reinforcement; adding appetitives immediately following a response, response rate increases, 2) negative reinforcement, removing aversives, rate increases; 3) positive punishment, adding aversives, rate decreases or suppresses temporarily during the threat or the presence of the aversives; and 4) negative punishment, removing appetitives, rate decreases. "Positive punishment" is sometimes shortened to "punishment" while "negative punishment" is shortened to "penalization." Note well: negative reinforcement and punishment are completely different, mutually exclusive operations.
So when a group of pedestrians steps out the front door of their homes and walks to the local Italian restaurant, they are operating upon the environment, which has, in turn, already stamped into their bodies a higher probability of return to their favorite Italian restaurant, a much higher days-per-month rate of walking along that particular path than the months preceding their first visit to "Attilio's." Since the food was "appetitive" on day one for each of them at Attilio's and for each of their visits thereafter, then this group of friends has the ability to keep a log of their visits and analyze their rate of return to Attilio's, one person at a time.
At that point the leading philosopher in the group can ask the others, along Skinnerian lines, "Are we free to eat out or is Mr. Attilio controlling and determining our behavior? Do we have free will? Are we free to choose our own actions? Is it ever possible to resist him by way of a group effort at counter-control? It seems like we're under his sway and their is no hope of resistance! What happens to Mr. Attilio when Burger King® sends us their two-for-one WHOPPER® Sandwich coupons in the mail? Are we then free to choose? Are we relatively free or absolutely free?"
Pavlovian conditioning still plays a vital function in behavior while operant conditioning is in effect, however. According to Skinner, Pavlovian reactions occur usually as a function of internal organs and processes, while operant behavior is more often observable as a process of the musculoskeletal system. Fear is the response to the bolt of lighting. The nervous system produces its stress reactions. So, as stated once again, while reflex behavior is elicited, Skinner's operant behavior is "emitted" by the organism who operates upon the environment.
This is why the Rotenberg children probably do fear the shock, because of the internal reactions, emotions aroused. Fear is an internal feeling that only the shock "victim" can know for sure, so in 2014 when the latest Rotenberg shock Center Director, Glenda Crookes, told CBS Evening News, "The shocks are painful, but students don't fear the shocks," then she was way out of line when she said that. Only the "victims" can honestly say whether or not they are afraid of Dr. Israel's pain device. Unless Ms. Crookes voluntarily subjects herself to precisely the same intensity and duration of shock, then hands over the remote control device to the students she's been zapping, lets them give her some commands, and then when she refuses to comply, they get to zap the zapper and pinpoint her behavior, "No raising your voice in an angry tone of voice," then barring all that, Ms. Crookes has no idea what her "treatments" actually do feel like and she has no right to say her "students" do not fear shock. Furthermore, what if they begin by giving her the less painful GED-1, and then if her behavior still doesn't "improve," then the students "treat" it with the FDA-unapproved more painful GED-4, for more than a decade of electroshock "treatments," as it seems like some of the older adult Rotenberg "victims" have, maybe, possibly endured? Then maybe they can take her off all medications, perhaps eliminating anxiety medication along with the program because as the Rotenberg Center says, "We seek to minimize the use of psychotropic medication and to remove it entirely." Would she then be afraid of the shock? Only she could truly know for sure, because, once again, fear is directly experienced by the feeler under the skin, and no place else, and it is logically impossible for one person to know how another person experiences fear. It would be "inappropriate" for any kind of "representative" to speak on her behalf. She would need the right to speak out to the press herself about how it really feels, not the students in their reversed role as the teachers with the zap controls, not her guardians, if she had some, not the judge who approved her shock, and not the PhD psychologists and the Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBAs) with their skin-shock stamps of approval. Only she could say how it felt to fear the GED-4! Well the point has been made loud and clear, so enough said about the Golden Rule of Ethics flipped, "Don't do unto others what you don't want done unto you." The discussion proceeds to the next idea.
So Pavlov's classical and Skinner's operant conditioning often occur together. For example, if a "teacher" at the "Judge Rotenberg Educational Center" "pinpoints" a behavior called "getting out of the seat without permission" by stating "you did not obey the teacher" and then shocks the "student" due to "noncompliance," then the teacher's verbal behavior is paired with shock and the child is classically conditioned not only to fear the shock, but also to fear the teacher. In the meanwhile, operant conditioning takes place and the "victim" wants to avoid and escape the teacher and the institution. Anna provides her readers with living testimony to the "healthy drive" to escape the JRC.
In Skinner's experimental findings the organism operates upon the environment which generates the delivery or removal of immediate positively reinforcing or aversive stimuli and events. The organism learns according to the contingencies. Consequences are stamped into the body which play out again in the future during similar circumstances under which the original stamping in took place. Depending upon the antecedent circumstances during the occasion of a response, the organism emits one specific behavior from among its entire repertoire of all potential competing behaviors. The particular response occurs more or less often according to the concurring schedules of all relevant consequences operating upon that kind of emission. So for example, hungry people go out to eat Mexican food at a Chipotle restaurant. If the food is sufficiently appetitive, then they are more likely to return to the same place another day, but if it's snowing outside, different variables take place, and they probably stay home and cook for themselves instead of heading out in the snow.
ABA today uses punitive or positively-reinforcing stimuli and events to try to “decelerate” the frequencies of so-called "problem behaviors" or to gradually shape, one successive approximation at a time, end-result target behaviors, such as complex safety, communication, learning, and academic skills for all kinds of populations, disabled and non-disabled alike, weak and strong, powerful or not. A child with the know-how can make a salamander come toward a delectable maggot she sets out in a dish on a front porch in a home in the tropics. Yet much more powerful than the simple food reinforcement of a rat or a reptile, through an extrapolation of what Skinner called "countercontrol," one can imagine how the populace can thank (reinforce) politicians with masse internet petitions and emails as soon as they serve the needs of the public at large rather than the need of the ultra-wealthy. Such massive campaigns of thanks, backed up by a substantial voter turnout would cause the politicians to vote in the interest of the people, not the corporations, again and again in the future.
ABA method either uses punishment as a last resort, hoping in the end to diminish and eliminate the frequencies of unwanted behaviors whenever their then-known alternatives to punishment have been exhausted, but to no avail, as Iwata (1988, pp. 152-53) advised, or else ABA method includes punishment in the midst of intervention well before life-threatening scenarios ever emerge. In the latter approach, for example, Wolf, Risley, and Mees (1964, p. 188) punished and extinguished (completely ignored) childhood temper tantrums at bedtime by shutting the bedroom door during temper tantrum time while they rewarded all other bedroom behavior by opening the door during non-tantrum time.
ABA would call the reinforcement of the child's behavior during non-temper-tantrum time the DRO, Differential Reinforcement of all Other behaviors (besides the "meltdown.") It does pass the Dead Man Test: "If he can do it, it ain't behavior." Surely a man in a coffin cannot do all the little important things a toddler can do in her bedroom. The DRO is one of many non-aversive treatments for "problem behavior." This is one positive alternative to punishing the tantrums with a spanking, for instance.
ABA punishment is known to go to extremes, however, and there's no stopping them yet. To illustrate, consider Division 25 of the APA, called "behavior analysis." A group of dissident psychologists have reported that the ethics arguments of a group of behavioral scientists from the American Psychological Association (APA) "salvaged" the reputation of the George W. Bush Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib torture programs "after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq." More unconscionable ABA in action is JRC's use of painful electric skin shock contingent upon many different kinds of behaviors including "noncompliance" and disrupting the lessons in "school," not to mention self-harm and physical aggression. One is led to ask who is causing the "problems of social importance," the ABA therapists or their ABA "clients."
This past May, 2015, the Ass. for Behavioral Analysis International (ABAI) "approved" the school of painful electric shock "treatment" as "being aligned with (its) mission." It also did the same official approval of JRC in 2014 (pp. 16, 21) and in 2013 (pp. 16, 23). This author's Google search went no further into the ABAI annual convention program book archives due to limited google results, but their recent program books have documented this fact quite clearly. How many years ABAI has officially endorsed ABA is still unknown to this blogger.
ABA has been shocking people since at least as far back as 1965 when Life Magazine covered Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas who eventually went on to create the Discrete Trial Training (DTT) methodology which ABA uses today on very young autistic children. (See below.) In '65 he tried to treat "Pamela," a nine-year-old autistic girl, in a UCLA laboratory, and "to give her something to be anxious about, she was taken to the shock room, where the floor is laced with metallic strips. Two electrodes were put on her bare back, and her shoes removed. When she resumed her habit of staring at her hand, Lovaas sent a mild jolt of current through the floor into her bare feet (Grant, 1965)."
"In the (Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis) JABA 1(1), Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) wrote their frequently cited 'Some Current Dimensions of ABA' and set the tone and scientific guidelines for the ABA age to come. The popular-norm-of-the-day became and remains chief among ABA standards for their ethical judgments regarding what constitutes a 'socially important behavioral problem,' what they had set out to 'solve.' They explicitly valued heterosexuality in Current Dimensions to the implied degradation of homosexuality. ABA had also been known to 'treat' the imagined 'sin' of feminine boy mannerisms. (See Dawson, 2004.) In the same inaugural issue of JABA, the very same Todd Risley (1968) of the Dimensions article published an experiment for torturing away the “autistic behaviors” of a so-called 'deviant child.' What did she do wrong? He electro-shocked the young girl and told her mother to spank her for climbing upon the precious family furniture - and she acted like a "freak," which is a cruel word from back in the day." Dave Jersey (2015)
In addition to Lovaas and Risley, Dr. Brian A. Iwata has presented another predominant ABA personality into the record books of ABA shock.
To demonstrate the kind of clout he carries over his ABA followers, he once co-authored a landmark paper entitled "Toward a functional analysis of self-injury (Iwata et al., 1982/1994 reprint)" with which his team of authors established functional analysis as a standard ABA behavioral assessment tool. Practitioners today use their data collection and measurement tool to determine specific environmental versus internal "determinants" of unwanted behaviors (Iwata and Dozier, 2008, abstract). Furthermore, (Dixon et al, 2015, table 4) showed how Brian Iwata is ABA's most-prolifically-published graduate school author.
For example, an Iwata-style assessment of a child's "elopement" from a classroom can show that the "cause" of so-called "running away" is to escape from a behavioral analyst or a teacher and her commandments to carry out menial ABA tasks, such as one who makes a young boy intensively stack blocks on a table in rapidly successive discrete trials while she forces him to sit still in a chair without moving his arms in any other manner except the manner in which she orders the movements. (Watch the Discrete Trial Training video below.) So the cause of the behavior would not rest in unreasonable demands, it would be blamed on the child's exhibition of "escape from demand." Training for submission would follow. It would be "important" not to stop making demands once she makes more demands as ABA would consider this "negative reinforcement" of his escapism.
He and other scientists reported that they employed SIBIS upon the Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB) of five females and males aged 11 to 24. They said, "In each case, the behavior was forceful contact with the head or face, and treatment consisted of mild and brief contingent electrical stimulation, delivered automatically or by a therapist via (SIBIS) (Linscheid et al., 1990, p. 53)." Within the report they concluded that SIBIS worked better than the hockey helmet which had been used unsuccessfully by other institutions hoping to protect the head and face of Johnny, an eleven year old autistic head-hitting boy, also diagnosed with an intellectual disability (1990, p. 63). [Why didn't they design a better, softly cushioned helmet?]
Historical as well as contemporary events suggest that it is a mistake for behavioral analysts to advocate for the adoption of aversive technologies. We must, however, continue to play a leading role in the development of such technologies so that they will be used in an appropriate manner. Furthermore, the eventual elimination of aversive technologies will be possible only through continued, careful, and experimental analysis of the contexts of failure in which they are born. (1988, abstract.)In the article he went on to devise an apolitical strategy for behavioral supporters of his SIBIS shock device. It was so controversial, he said, that in order to gain shock device support, he advocated to his peers, it would have been better for the so-called "scientists" to remain neutral on this so-called "technology," and let the parents of the shocked children do the unpleasant political work. (Iwata, 1988, p. 156) said, "We should not advocate for adoption of aversive technologies because such activity, at least by us, is not effective, not in the best interest of our field, and not necessary. Instead, we should leave adoption to advocates, parents, and courts."
He asked his ABA colleagues:
Should we advocate for the use of (technologies based on aversive stimulation)? Stated bluntly, my answer is "No," and in support of it I offer three principal reasons. First, an advocacy position favoring the use of aversive stimuli is not likely to be an effective one, at least in the short run. Remember that, when we step beyond the boundaries of our research, attempts to lobby for adoption of technology are successful to the extent that adoption is reinforced (Pennypacker,1986). Furthermore, we do not provide those reinforcers. With respect to the current controversy, we find a curious paradox within our culture. If anything, our society can be characterized as one that actively promotes the use of aversive contingencies on the behavior of its members. Nuclear arms, capital punishment, and expulsion from school, as ineffective as they may be, are strongly supported by many members of our culture, and are tolerated by enough of us to allow their continuation. (p. 150)
Why is it that the same people who denounce the use of relatively harmless aversive contingencies to eliminate life-threatening behavior of a retarded individual not only support aversive cultural practices, but also routinely subject their own children and coworkers to stimuli that are functionally similar to the ones they abhor? Of course, the question is not easily answered in the empirical sense, but a behavior analyst who knows something about the history of treatment for retarded and autistic individuals can formulate a pretty good guess. For most of this century, these populations have lived grossly neglected lives in substandard environments, and they have been exposed to continual doses of both noncontingent and contingent aversive stimulation (Blat, 1970; Rivera, 1972). Therefore, it should come as no surprise, now that the service pendulum has swung the other way, that parents and advocates literaly (sic) cringe when they hear the words "punishment," "aversive," and soon, in reference to treatment for their children and clients. These words, and the practices they represent, have acquired aversive properties; they also may be discriminative for highly emotional and combative behavior of the type that was successful in eliminating neglectful conditions that existed previously. (p. 150).*****
Sometimes ABA practitioners treat SIB and exhaust all the alternatives to punishment they know how to use, he argued. The only options remaining, he said, were "restraint, sedating drugs, or aversive contingencies" (1988, p. 156). Without explaining why, he ruled out restraint and sedation as too "devastating" (p. 152). However, as this blogger has reported from first-hand experience, major antipsychotic tranquilizers aren't as bad as Iwata and JRC have made them out to be, especially compared to the nauseating shock he once felt as a young boy. Nevertheless, the professor from Florida continued, "The only remaining ethical action" was to punish SIB (Iwata, 1988, pp. 152, 53, 56), even with the SIBIS.
More recently LaVigna, (Affidavit vs. JRC, 2013, p. 3) said, "Professionals who have extensively used evidenced-based PBS over the past 25 years have reached a consensus opinion that punitive procedures are not necessary and, therefore, are not ethical." This is their theory, at least.
[July 12, 2016. Editing note. In Altier(i) (2016), an anonymous parent quoted her actually autistic son's criticism of actual PBS/PBIS in practice. As it turns out, and also after confirmation two anonymous special education school teachers, so it seems, although LaVigna, (Affidavit vs. JRC, 2013, p. 3) theorized in PBS form against the use of punishing procedures, in practice, in the schools, away from armchair, booking PBS academia, PBS is indeed highly punitive. So although PBS-in-schools avoids well-established ABA positive punishment procedures, hopefully,at least, as in adding aversives as soon as unwanted responses occur, (water-spritz-to-faces, white noise machines, skin shock, bitter-lemon-juice-to-mouths-"therapy," it looks PBS has no qualms about using negative punishment, dangling positive reinforcers in front of atypically behaving children, misjudging their physically harmless behaviors as "inappropriate," teasing them with samples of the token economy treats, and then taking them away or withholding them, as well as ostracizing these disabled and autistic children from class trips, as Anna described below, under what JRC has Orwellian deemed its "Unparalleled Positive Programming" to be called.]
Nonlinear PBS recognizes the existence of many relevant contingencies operating simultaneously upon a given behavior. One can imagine LaVigna advising parents to remove their children from poisonous environments and 1) to figure out how to support their needs, such as healthy food, adequate medical treatment, uncritical acceptance of honest expression of feelings, safe shelter, comfortable clothes, enhanced self-esteem, unblocked self-determination, and the freedom to aim high on the paths they set for themselves to become the actual persons they already know they're becoming; 2) to provide for their needs or else teach them how to acquire them independently; 3) if "no" is a reasonable answer, to teach them how to accept it and how to cope with disappointments, just and unjust alike; and 4) to support their children, not with small bits of food contingent upon submission to demands as ABA does, but simply because they love them. So PBS theory incorporates a major component that respects the dignity of the individual and prevents problems before they rear their heads.
On the other hand, parents of autistics often hire behavioral analysts hoping they can solve unwanted behavioral "problems" after diagnosis, as illustrated by Eric Larsson, founder of the ABA Lovaas Institute Midwest, who said, "They're coming to us because they want to cure their child. Just like you or I would do if we had cancer (Lerner, 2011)." Self-advocates such as Lydia Brown (2011), however, identify proudly as autistic and say autism is not a disease.
Unlike PBS with its nonlinear component, Iwata's functional analysis is exclusively linear ABA and relatively simple. Its ABC method for diagnosing the putative causes of unwanted behavior typically derives just one contingency as the main explanation of the target behavior's cause by observing, recording, collecting, and analyzing the data in a setting from: 1) the immediately apparent Antecedents to behavior, what they see and hear in the environment before an emission; 2) the Behavioral responses; and 3) the Consequences, the immediate addition or subtraction of the most prominent and apparent aversive or positively reinforcing stimuli or events. (See Potoczak, Carr, and Michael, 2007, abstract.)
PBS theory is also linear, but without coercive stimuli. This includes: 1) the DRO, Differential Reinforcement of all Other behavior besides the problem behavior, for example, by rewarding a person who is prone to injuring himself for physically not harming any person or thing, thus by rewarding him for doing anything else as long as it causes no physical harm; 2) the DRI, Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible behavior by reinforcing behavior that cannot possibly occur at the same place and time as the target behavior, for example, by playing ball in the middle of a room which is incompatible with self-hitting against a wall; and 3) the DRL, Differential Reinforcement of Low rates of response by rewarding an individual for a problem behavior as it occurs less and less often, for example, by rewarding someone who hits himself during successively lower rates of response in gradual approximation toward the goal of never hitting, so by teaching him to hit himself less and less often until he stops it altogether.
So, "the Judge Rotenberg Center was established by Matthew Israel in 1971, as the Behavioral Research Institute (BRI).... 'Treatment' at the school consisted of many different forms of punishment, including spraying children in the face with water, forcing them to smell ammonia, pinching them, slapping them, subjecting them to painful muscle squeezes, spanking them, forcing them to put hot peppers on their tongues, and forcing them to wear a 'white-noise' helmet that emitted static." (Davies, 2014)
According to Brown (2014), the GED-4 is "more than 15 times as powerful as the stun belts designed to incapacitate violent adult prisoners."
"Students are restrained and GED (shock) administered as the student is forcibly challenged to do the behavior the punishment seeks to eliminate. JRC students are sometimes induced to exhibit a behavior for which they will receive a shock punishment. Students endure surprise mock attacks and threatened stabbings by staff, which compel them to react with aggression, fear or screaming – deemed unacceptable or inappropriate behavior – for which they are subject to more shock for their reactions. Former students report BRLs as particularly terrifying and some staff describe BRLs as difficult to participate in and dramatic to watch." Ahern and Rosenthal (2010)
“It was reported by a JRC staff member that one of the BRL episodes involved holding a student's face still while a staff person went for his mouth with a pen or pencil threatening to stab him in the mouth while repeatedly yelling, "You want to eat this?" – June 2006 report on JRC by New York State Education Department (in Ahern and Rosenthal, 2010)
"The worst thing ever was the BRLs. They try and make you do a bad behavior and then they punish you. The first time I had a BRL, two guys came in the room and grabbed me – I had no idea what was going on. They held a knife to my throat and I started to scream and I got shocked. I had BRLs three times a week for stuff I didn't even do. It went on for about six months or more. I was in a constant state of paranoia and fear. I never knew if a door opened if I would get one. It was more stress than I could ever imagine. Horror." - MDRI interview with former JRC student (in Ahern and Rosenthal, 2010)
JRC today implements what they call "unparalleled positive programming." It looks like they can abruptly undo all the positivity of a program with severe "Loss Of Privileges" (LOP) contingent upon emissions of unapproved behaviors, as Anna reported in her interview with this blogger. As spoken above in the paragraph about PBS ostracism through the denial of trips from special needs children who couldn't go out with their classmates, JRC's positive programs also involves the harsh use of penalty, which is not, after all, such a positive program. Anna describes precisely the identical trip-denial-short-of-enough-tokens-to-go-out contingency, but LOP is much more severe than just staying home from a trip, as Anna described.
In addition to LOP, JRC uses other methods of control not mentioned in this preface. Anna provides her readers with a long section about them in her interview below in this blog post.
As an afterthought to this section, is a caveat in the strategy of nonlinear prevention of problem behavior: Don't provide for any of the child's needs in any specific manner immediately following unwanted behaviors unless the parent wants the specific unwanted behavior immediately preceding the addition of a specific thing or event to repeatedly reoccur. Do it later, well after a problem behavior has appeared. So if a young boy in the market screams out in a temper, or sends a signal that a tantrum is about to happen if his mother does not meet his demand, such as the emission of a shrill-sounding, whining, or screeching, "Gimme that box of Cracker Jack®!" then she should not immediately provide a hug or a piece of caramel coated popcorn, unless, of course, she wants the tantrum signal to pick up where it left off on the next visit past the candy aisle the next time they're out food shopping together. So therefore, it's good to provide for needs non-contingently upon any specific behavior just because it's healthy, not because it's a way to control behavior, but not quickly after so-called "bad behaviors" happen.
As a final illustration to encapsulate this entire section, illegal graffiti spraying can be prevented by a cooperative parent and child or by a good community leader. Parent(s) need healthy, life-supporting wages/salaries and other benefits in order to accomplish the following action for the good of the entire "village." A Dad can take his daughter out for a nice pair of comfortable sneakers any other time except after a "spoiled-brat-sounding" demand for good shoes or except after any other kind of unwanted behavior, and especially when she asks nicely, if the she and her father both agree that polite ways of communicating are good for both of them to know how to do. That way she can go out and run and play sports or games in "appropriate" manners with her friends in the park and not get into trouble spraying graffiti on the walls because she's not happy at home or because her feet are sore from bad shoes. She can't be running in the park and spraying graffiti over somebody else's private property. They are incompatible behaviors.
In another approach to prevent the same problem, a humanistic psychologist, social worker, or neighborhood leader can direct young people to avoid a building which would make somebody angry and spray their artwork instead onto the walls of a building slate as approved for graffiti by a property owner! Then everyone's happy! Even gang members can be constructive and contribute in valuable ways to the well-being of a community. We need to recognize this too. The idea is not to judge behavior as good or bad but to manage it in ways that all parties can accept and use to avoid conflict.
To punish her after the fact if she does disfigure a wall somewhere in the neighborhood, is to create retaliation, revenge, or escapism, running away, taking drugs, or some kind of a hostile act. Punishment, therefore, is the true "pipeline to prison" and harms everybody in the long run, as people in jail are not rehabilitated in the U.S., but they do learn skills in crime, it is believed, and may go out and commit more upon release.
Therefore, coercive punishment is injustice. No justice, no peace. Support, reinforcement, and prevention are the less charted road on the way for us all toward the maximal freedom of all members the global village called Earth.
Advocates need to scrutinize all ABA or PBS programs. So if a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA), or any other kind of behavioralist, tells a father that punishment is important, not only as a last resort, but to control all sorts of unwanted behaviors, then two neon red flags should light up in his brain. He should save himself some time, end the discussion, and then search out another BCBA who practices true PBS deep down to its most ethical core.
If she says her work is very positive "because punishment is more effective in the event of an emergency or because she's exhausted everything positive, but they just don't work," then the parent advocate is advised to question the BCBA anyway, thoroughly, before deciding whether or not to hire her. She should show him a crisis management training certificate and explain precisely how she can de-escalate all parties involved at the first sign of trouble. She should explain how she uses the non-linear methods as included above in this preface. He should ask her to discuss how she uses "DRI and DRL" rather than the better-known DRO. If she cannot elaborate upon these initials, he should beware of a lack of training in the complete array of non-aversive methods. In that event, a single red flag in his head should warn him to proceed with caution.
She needs to explain how she obtains positive instructional control with no dissent from the child and how she reacts when her pupils tell her to leave them alone. He should insist she always respect his child's dignity and ask her to cite the case law that granted everyone the legal right to autonomy, especially people with disabilities adjudicated as "incapacitated."
If he does hire her, then he should attend, or audio-visually record, all sessions until she earns a respectable amount of trust. He should always grant his child the right to dismiss her, whether he's verbal or not, young or old, capable or incapable of an abstract power of reason. They should comply with an obvious with to get away from her if he cries just before she walks in the door, resists her moves, squirms in discomfort, wants to go back to his bedroom, struggles to stay in his seat, or wants nothing to do with forced eye contact or keeping his hands perfectly still, because she has the equivalent right to accept him or not as a consumer of the services she provides and because he is the primary stakeholder in the outcome of her interventions, the one whose voice is most important among all the voices of his child study team. At all his behavior change meetings he ought to sit at the head of the table, and then as she sets the plan into motion, if he dissents, for goodness sakes, she should stop what she's doing, go home, get back to the drawing board, and design a plan he can enjoy. If this approach isn't good enough, then an adult peer advocate with the same disability or disorder as the child, should sit in the secondary seat at the next meeting.
JRC has created a lever strategy for bypassing the dissent of their children to convince a judge to substitute his judgment or a "therapist's" judgment in lieu of the children's judgment and allow them shock the hell out of them, but their main network of support is a group of vocal parents who have signed up their children for shock.
The advocates and attorneys opposed to JRC have spoken well. Highly noteworthy is the organization called Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) which investigated JRC and appealed to the United Nations to label them a school of "torture" rather than a "treatment" center (Ahern and Rosenthal, 2010), and the U.N. responded favorably. (Méndez, 2013, p. 85).
In his aforementioned list of advocates, Iwata didn't anticipate another kind of advocate for the victims of shock. It's not the parents; it's not the so-called court approved client advocates, nor is it the justices who send them away for shock; it's neither the ABA experimentalists nor their BCBAs. Who is behind the powerful movement still fighting to #CloseTheJRC (Twitter). ABA must reckon now with the disabled and autistic self-advocates, peer advocates, systems change advocates and on top of the list are the JRC survivors. Some have already spoken poignantly over the years. Please listen next to Anna Kosovskaya. From out of the batter's box, she steps up to the plate.
Anna: when we heard staff call for "help!" that was an indication that a crisis was about to arise... that means they were about to restrain somebody... sometimes it happened in the hallways... when we were returning one day from dinner, all of a sudden a staff yelled "everyone get out the way now!!!"… and then the same staff yelled, "staff get your clients out of the hallway... everyone go back to your classrooms!!"... whenever there was a crisis they didn't want the others watching... they would tell the staff to take everyone else back to their classrooms... they (took the client under crisis to) the ALC room... that's the room they bring the clients in to be restrained... when they were having an outburst... or the conference room... some clients went into the conference room and got put on a board and into a helmet...
My One Day of Electric Skin Shock Versus My Thirty-Six Years of Anti-Psychotics