Electric Shocks Are A Terrible Way To Teach Anyone Anything

TL;DR: Leave a comment here showing your support of the ban and encourage others to do the same.

[TW: Abuse, Pain, Electric Shocks, Torture, Horror, Use of the term “mental retardation” in many of the links]

It is 2016, and the Food and Drug Administration of the United State of America is considering the banning the use of electric shock devices to deliver adversive punishment to disabled individuals.


There have been multiple studies, some in recent years, that demonstrate that there are many methods of reducing self-injurious and aggressive behaviors, the behaviors most often targeted by these shocks, that do not inflict pain. Reward desirable behavior. Redirect undesirable behavior, and then reward desirable behavior. Use time-out, and then reward desirable behavior. Teach them how to communicate in a non-aggressive manner. 

Many people have spoken out about the harm that these devices brings. There’s the physical harm, such as burns on the skin, blisters, nausea, numbness, seizures,  and, as one might expect, pain. There’s also the psychological trauma, such as anxiety, depression, nightmares and sleep difficulties, and even PTSD.

If you’ve been told that these shocks are slight and not painful, then you’ve been mislead at best and possibly straight-up lied to.

Yet, it is 2016, and we are still considering the fact that, maybe, administering electric shocks as a means of instruction might possibly be a bad enough idea to warrant some regulation.

Does the administering of electric shocks through the GED lessen aggressive and self-injurious behaviors, as is claimed by the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), the major user and supporter of such devices? Well, yes, at least for the duration that the study keeps track of the behavior. Punishment does stop certain behaviors.

But at what cost?

There exists a principle known as risk-benefit analysis. Ideally, one would want minimum harm and maximum benefit. If harm must exist, the benefit must be great enough to compensate for that harm.

And if the harm is, say, a person being permanently injured both physically and emotionally, then that benefit had better be extreme.

Which does not seem to be the case with these electric shock treatments. The reports  of seeing improvements are made by parents who note the external behavior; one is hard pressed to find reports from the receivers of such shocks themselves proclaiming their effectiveness (although do let me know if you do come across any). From what I can see, and from what all of the reports from such treatments seem to indicate, the adjustment of external behaviors are nowhere near sufficient enough justification for the pain inflicted.

What’s even more outrageous is that the JRC does not limit the use of such shocks to self-injurious and aggressive behaviors. From a report on the Judge Rotenberg Center given by Quentin Davies:

“Although JRC claims that the intention is to stop self-harming or violent behaviors, it also has shocked students for many other things, including: involuntary body movements, waving hands, blocking out sound overstimulation by putting their fingers in their ears, wrapping their foot around the leg of their chair, tensing up their body or fingers, not answering staff quickly enough (xxx), screaming while being shocked, closing their eyes for more than 15 seconds, reacting in fear to other students being shocked, standing up, asking to use the bathroom, raising their hand (Miller), popping their own pimple, leaving a supervised area without asking, swearing, saying “no” (Ahern and Rosenthal 13), stopping work for more than 10 seconds, interrupting others, nagging, whispering, slouching, tearing up paper, and attempting to remove electrodes from their skin (Ahern and Rosenthal 20-21). Additionally, students are shocked for having 5 verbal behaviors in an hour. These behaviors can include talking to oneself, clearing one’s throat, crying, laughing, humming, repeating oneself, or “inappropriate tone of voice” (xxx).”

The bottom line is simple: these shocks harm, there’s better methods out there, and we should be way past the point of “considering.” We need to be acting. Swiftly and with gusto.

If you’ve read the above links, you might have gathered that the JRC inflicts harm with more than just the electric shocks. There’s the food restriction–sometimes outright deprivation, verbal abuse, humiliation, and social isolation, among other things that I’m sure that I am not even be aware of. This center, and any center that is even remotely as adversive-centered (i.e. abusive), needs to be shut down for good.

But the banning of electric shock devices are a good start. Because it’s probably not only the JRC that uses them. The JRC is the most widely reported, of course, but there are so many small-scale clinics and schools that nobody hears about. There are clinics and schools yet to be brought into existence. If the current statues stay in place, there is nothing to stop others from using these shocks in their treatment programs. “The studies say that it works!”, they’ll say. But many of those studies don’t show you the harm.

So here’s what you can do to stop this harm. 

1. Leave comments on the proposed ban  (just in case the hyperlink isn’t working, https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2016-N-1111-0001).

If you need help with coming up with something to write, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network has prepared this script:

[I, Name,] strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to proceed with their proposed ban of electrical stimulation devices (ESD)s. Devices that deliver painful electric shocks pose an unreasonable and substantial risk of harm and have been the cause of incredible pain and suffering for people with disabilities. Their use is condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. 

The FDA is allowed ban any medical device if it finds that the device presents a substantial and unreasonable risk of illness or injury. As the FDA notes in the proposed rule, there are and there have been countless adverse effects, both psychological and physical, of the use of these devices. There is no evidence that they are a valid or effective treatment. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the nation’s leading organization run both by and for Autistic people, has heard many firsthand accounts from people with disabilities who have had ESDs used on them. They report nightmares, overwhelming fear and anxiety, and traumatic memories associated with the use of these devices. Some have later developed psychiatric disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We have also seen records and videos from the only facility known to use the devices in the United States, the Judge Rotenberg Center, showing that these devices have frequently been used to abuse Judge Rotenberg Center residents. Although these devices can cause severe injuries, trauma, and distress even when used as intended, the potential for abuse poses yet another substantial and unreasonable risk. 

[Write why the FDA’s ban is important to you in a few sentences to a paragraph here. The FDA may discard your comments without this.]

I therefore urge the FDA to ban these harmful devices without further delay and their use in the United States. 

[End Script]“

2. Get everyone you know, and everyone you don’t know, to leave comments as well.

3. Petitions. There are often various petitions circulating regarding the topic of electric shocks and the JRC. Sign, share, and, if need be and resources allow, start your own.

4. Stay aware. If a center, school, hospital, clinic, or program near you is entertaining the notion of using these shocks, tell them why they shouldn’t.


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