AUCD Strongly Opposes Decision to Let Electric Shock Treatments Continue

July 9, 2018

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) stands with many other national disability organizations in strongly opposing the recent decision by a Probate and Family Court judge to allow a school in Canton, Massachusetts, to continue administering electric shocks to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"We are surprised and disappointed that this aversive and offensive practice of administering electric shock punishments to modify the behavior of people with disabilities has been allowed to continue," said Andrew Imparato, Executive Director of AUCD. "This facility's decades-long insistence on so-called 'aversive therapy' as a treatment of first resort defies logic, decency, and expert medical opinions."

Using electric shocks to punish and "correct" behavior is widely discredited throughout the medical and educational community, making the Rotenberg Center the only facility in the nation that clings to the practice. Yet, despite the fact that no other facility subjects people with disabilities to these shocking machines, the judge found that the state failed to prove that they were outside the boundaries of "the accepted standard of care for treating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities."

Over the past 50 years, the fields of Applied Behavior Analysis and Positive Behavior Support have developed and researched effective, non-aversive approaches to supporting individuals with severe problem behaviors. "While many practitioners once supported such aversive therapies, most competent practitioners in both fields now realize that more useful and positive approaches exist to not only decrease problem behaviors, but to improve overall quality of life and long-term outcomes," said Dr. Don Kincaid, professor and director of the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities at the University of South Florida. "As a result, the use of electric shock for the management of problem behaviors is no longer considered a viable alternative for safe and effective treatment of our most vulnerable citizens."

Sadly, the court seemed more concerned with the process Massachusetts used to try to end the practice than by the fact that people were being subjected to frequent electric shocks, some for more than two decades. AUCD calls on the state to appeal the probate court decision based on this facility's consistent failure to have licensed clinicians create treatment plans that did not rely on shocking patients and the court's failure to consider the civil and human rights of residents to be free from physical abuse.

In a proposed rule that is still under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency has already found there is a lack of evidence demonstrating that shock devices are effective in reducing self-injurious and aggressive behaviors on a long-term basis, and that they may even exacerbate or increase the targeted behaviors.

The time for change is now. "We agree with the FDA's determination that these devices are ineffective and dangerous and strongly urge the FDA to release its final rule and end these abhorrent practices," said Imparato.

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The Association of University Centers on Disabilities, located in Silver Spring, MD, is a national, nonprofit organization that promotes and supports the national network of interdisciplinary centers advancing policy and practice through research, education, leadership, and services for and with individuals with developmental and other disabilities, their families, and communities. For more information, visit www.aucd.org or contact aucdinfo@aucd.org.

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