Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Aversives-addicted Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) electro-shockers are on trial against Positive Behavior Support (PBS) non-punishers (theoretically, because PBS punishes in practice).

As of the date of this post, eight days ago Monday, on October 26, 2015, the Bristol County Massachusetts Probate and Family Court began hearing evidentiary arguments to the Massachusetts Executive Branch motion to move the Judge Rotenberg Center's (JRC) power to shock away from this court which has been rubber stamping just about all the shock "treatments" that JRC has requested of it (Lydia Brown, 2015). This could mean the end of shock. Massachusetts has begun its arguments against Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) extremely painful electric skin shock in favor of the wide array of Positive Behavior Support (PBS) alternatives to punishment. The hearing is expected to last about a month.

It is shaping up as a trial of ABA, the profession of last resort punishment control at its best and non-last resort punishment at its worst, versus, PBS, which after more than twenty-five years of research has recently reached a consensus of practice conclusion that punitive techniques are unnecessary and therefore unethical (LaVigna's Affidavit vs. JRC, p. 3).

This docket has a history dating back to the mid 1980s.
In 1985, the Massachusetts Office for Children (OFC), which oversaw facilities like the Behavior Research Institute (BRI) (hereinafter referred to as the JRC), alleged that the facility's use of "aversive therapies" like spankings, muscle squeezes, pinching, and "restrained timeouts" violated state regulations. The OFC demanded that the facility show cause why it should not be shut down or otherwise sanctioned. The Center responded by filing a class action in state court on behalf of itself, its students, and its students' parents. It claimed that the OFC had engaged in bad-faith regulatory actions that violated the students' due-process rights as well as the state's Administrative Procedures Act. In June 1986, the state superior court (Judge Ernest Rotenberg) granted a preliminary injunction barring the OFC from revoking the Center's license to provide services. The court held that prohibiting the Center from practicing "aversive therapies" would seriously inhibit its program and harm the students. The preliminary injunction was upheld on appeal. A few months later, the two parties entered into a settlement agreement, which Judge Rotenberg approved in January 1987. The agreement allowed for "aversive procedures" at the Center only when authorized "as part of a court-ordered 'substituted judgment' treatment plan for an individual client." A court-appointed monitor oversaw all court-approved individualized aversive plans and reported regularly to the court. The monitor also had authority to arbitrate any disputes arising under the agreement.
So jumping ahead to the JRC news of the month, on Monday, October 26 Elizabeth Kolmus, leader of the New York chapter of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), was tweeting live from the courtroom on the first day of the new hearing. Her tweets clearly revealed the inherent conflict between the ABA profession, as represented by JRC and its strong networking alliances with ABA scientists and practitioners, and the PBS group, who this blogger calls the "gentle sister profession to ABA," as represented by the Executive Branch of Massachusetts all throughout the long ordeal of this torturous JRC docket.

DDS = the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services

[Blogger note: "JRC is the only provider (in Massachusetts) currently using Level III interventions, described...as, 'painful, aversive stimuli and deprivation procedures.' Level III interventions include use of an electronic shock device known as a graduated electronic decelerator, or GED, in use solely by JRC" (McGreal, 2012). DA]


  1. Hi Dave, I am a BCaBA (this is my internet handle not my real name) and the abuse at the JRC astounds me, for several reasons. What I do not understand, and my research doesn't answer is how do the JRC justify basing their claims that the GED & GED-4 are harmless. How can the FDA continue to approve it assume , since presumably long term research studies on effects of receiving the shocks at the level some of the 'students' at the JRC are receiving them would not pass an ethical committee . How are the JRC supporting their claim that the GED shocks are less painful that the self injurious behaviour they are 'treating' , and safe with no long term health risks, unlike the severe behaviour they say they only use the shocks for. If they say that they use the shocks to reduce harmful long term medication side effects, then surely the long term side effects of the GED have to be known to substantiate the claims it's safer and better. As you have obviously researched the JRC and legal issues very well (I am also outside the USA) , I thought you might know on what evidence the JRC base their claim the GED, GED-4 is actually safe? would be grateful for references or any articles you can point me to.

  2. Tash, thanks for your support. JRC is known to deceive. See Lydia Brown's submission to the FDA panel for a clear explanation of this position. I believe Crookes, JRC Director, knows very well the FDA unapproved GED she uses is not safe. If they have manufactured excuses saying it is safe, which I cannot now recall, perhaps you can find it in the FDA hearing transcript which covered safety of the GEDs in depth. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/MedicalDevices/MedicalDevicesAdvisoryCommittee/NeurologicalDevicesPanel/UCM398417.pdf


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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.