The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts, presents itself as a comprehensive and humane solution to challenges presented by autism and other developmental disabilities, including self-injury and violence. That, however, is far from the truth: the JRC uses dangerous, life-threatening electric shocks via a device known as the Graduated Electronic Decelerator, or GED, to ensure patients’ compliance, in addition to physical restraint and seclusion. While the GED is no longer permitted to be used on new entrants, people who were already housed at the JRC before the ban can still be subjected to it. Moreover, even if students are not subjected to the GED, they still experience physical restraint, isolation from society at large, and psychological abuse.
Here is a list of common myths people believe about the JRC and its purported benefits, countered by the facts.
Myth: JRC offers positive supports to help my child or loved one behave in a healthier and more productive way.
Reality: Instead of directing students toward more helpful ways to handle stress, self-injury, anxiety, or difficulties with learning, JRC creates an atmosphere of constant fear in order to ensure its students’ compliance, and other aversive methods that do not include the GED can still be used for new students. The JRC may show more positive reinforcements (like the “Reward Store”) on their website and through literature they distribute to parents, other caregivers, and school districts that fund students’ admission to the school, but this whitewashes what truly happens—the systematic physical and emotional torture of any student who is unfortunate enough to cross its threshold. Here is a video of the kind of suffering JRC inflicts on its students (warning for graphic violence):
Myth: JRC uses state-of-the-art treatments that are scientifically proven and have demonstrable results that will improve its students’ quality of life.
Reality: The JRC has also been condemned by numerous human-rights and healthcare bodies, including the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture. The FDA is also considering issuing a ban against the electric-shock devices used at the JRC. These treatments are not state-of-the-art or scientifically proven: they are torture. There is also little to no empirical evidence that these treatments are effective. The kind of treatment the JRC specializes in is more likely to cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than it is to help them.
Myth: JRC is more respectful of students’ health than other treatment programs because it avoids using medication in order to gain cooperation.
Reality: While drugging students in order to achieve compliance is also morally questionable, the treatment used by the JRC is downright torturous. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Aversive treatments are not an acceptable alternative to drug treatment. The real alternative is compassionate treatment that does not degrade students.
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