'Shocking' School Takes On Severe Autism

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Parental Support?

Though many people dispute his theories, many parents of J.R.C. students support Israel. Bonnie Diaz's son Chris has pervasive developmental disorder, attention deficit disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was kicked out of one school after only two weeks for breaking furniture and knocking a bookshelf over on a teacher.

Soon it became dangerous for Diaz to transport her son, because he would hit her while she was driving. Eight months after he began attending the J.R.C and receiving skin shock therapy, Diaz was able to hug her son for the first time in almost two years.

Ed Ferri, a student at J.R.C., received skin shock therapy and has become more independent. He attended J.R.C. for 10 years. For five years he wore the G.E.D. device nearly 24 hours a day, every day of the week. "I would head bang, bite myself," said Ferri.

"I'd be swearing, I'd be getting physically restrained, held down by numerous staff members. And my life really wasn't going anywhere." He has since graduated from J.R.C., works in the school's kitchen and lives in a group home across the street from the school. "I never envisioned me getting this far in my life," said Ferri.

These are the students that Israel said he wants to save. "They're in a life quality-threatening situation," said Israel. "Because without the treatment, they're going to end up with no jobs, on the streets, in an institution of some kind, or warehoused, or on drugs."

Other Approaches

Massachusetts state Sen. Brian Joyce sees aversive therapy as cruel and inhumane. "If this same treatment were allowed on terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, there would be worldwide outrage," he said. "It's incredible to me that it is going on today here in Massachusetts, and I do believe it should be stopped."

Dr. Barry Prizant, an expert on autistic children at Brown University's Center for the Study of Human Development, doesn't see any role for the G.E.D. device in the treatment of people with severe autism. "We believe that some kids and some people with autism actually may develop post-traumatic stress disorder based upon these cumulative negative emotional memories [of being shocked]," he said.

Prizant believes that "positive approaches have much longer-term positive effects on people with the most severe behavior."

The New York state Board of Regents, which issued a report in June 2006, recently decided they will no longer allow students from the state to receive skin shock treatment after 2009, except in very rare cases. Israel said the report is biased and is fighting the state action.

A Daunting Decision

Parents like the Dohertys are also not onboard with this decision. Richard Doherty wants his son to enjoy life in the best way he can. "I don't want him strapped down to a bed. I don't want him doped up and drooling," he said. "I want him to be safe."

Linda Doherty also sees the benefit of skin shock therapy. "My son is not biting himself. He's not self-injurious. My son is not attacking people, so people can work with him without fear of being physically harmed," she said. "He's able to work on a computer. He's able to go on field trips and go out into the community. They're able to start giving him some sort of job skills, like sweeping a floor or putting knifes and forks into plastic packs. I think that it is a success."

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