Why Principled Positions Matter: The Judge Rotenberg Center and Autism Organizations
    By Kim Wombles | March 22nd 2012 08:53 PM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Instructor of English and psychology and mother to three on the autism spectrum.

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    How a society treats the disabled, especially those in need of specialized care due to aggressive behaviors and self-injurious behaviors, says a lot about the morality and compassion of that society. Are they locked away out of sight, left to live in horrendous conditions, abandoned not only by society, but by family members as well? The United States does not have a good record when it comes to the care provided to the mentally and physically disabled. From lobotomies to forced sterilization, from electric shock therapy and restraint systems that resemble the horrors of a torturer’s chamber, we as a society have wreaked havoc on those unable to defend themselves.

    And then, in an effort to make things better, we closed several institutions and placed the disabled in their communities, except that we failed to fund group homes adequately, we failed to legislate adequate training for carers, we paid the caregivers substandard wages, and we neglected to make sure those placed in the community were safe and well-cared for. In actuality, many ended up homeless, some ended up in jail, and ill-equipped families took in their disabled and did the best they could with no training, little support, and few opportunities.

    Today, our society is facing an overwhelming crisis of what to do and how to help those who are disabled have equal access to society and all that being a full member of society entails: work that is fulfilling, socialization opportunities and safe living environments. Parents and families struggle to find appropriate programs from early childhood on as school districts prove themselves ill-equipped to provide for the disabled and as our children reach adulthood, we and our adult children find ourselves struggling to find workable solutions that keep our loved ones safe and allow them autonomy and satisfaction.

    Some disabled individuals, faced with a past that failed to help them get aggressive behaviors and self-injurious behaviors under control, end up in jail for attacking their caregivers or carted off to various institutions until there’s no place left that will take them, except the Judge Rotenberg Center, which prides itself on not rejecting anyone. Of course, one of the hidden costs of admission is being hooked up to electrodes that will shock the individual should he engage in any behavior deemed unacceptable. In addition to shocks administered by staff with minimal training, restraints, including four-point restraints, are a favored tactic.

    You would think that the stories that come out of the center would ensure its closing, but instead parents of those institutionalized there go before the Massachusetts government  and argue that the shocks are good things. And perhaps, for the parents, grown children suddenly malleable and cowed, seems like a boon. Parents go home with the shock boxes and the ability to stop their children on a dime if  they choose to act out. Who wouldn't want the ability to taser an aggressive individual, right? And that is what it's tantamount to: tasering. 

    Abuse story after abuse story comes out, advocates and organizations rallyand the federal justice department investigates, and yet nothing really changes. Autistic advocates and parent advocates have come together over the years, writing piece after piece, like Lydia Brown's work on  and at the Autism Education Project and Marj Hatzell's piece in The Stir. The ICAA recently wrote about the center, noting that "The GED skin shocks were created and used by the JRC to deliberately apply painful burns to the skin of people with disabilities who become students at the JRC in Massachusetts. The skin shocks are many times more powerful than that of an average dog shock collar which is universally considered abuse for humans and is controversial for use on dogs or other animals."

    This should be a no-brainer for anyone concerned with the humane and responsible care and education of individuals with disabilities. It should be an easy thing to stand up and say "We stand against the restraint, abuse, and torture of the disabled." Every organization dealing with disabled populations should feel a moral imperative to do this: to stand against the Judge Rotenberg Center and its thirty year plus history of shocking clients, refusing food, restraining for hours without any kind of break for the client. 

    However, that is definitely not the case. Two major autism organizations have not stood up and led the way on this issue. Two major autism non-profits have failed to stand against restraint, seclusion, the withholding of food, and the administration of painful shocks that the Judge Rotenberg Center engages in. Autism Speaks and the Autism Society have chosen, for whatever reason, to remain silent on an issue their stature and recognition among the public would certainly bring attention to.
    Autism Speaks has no official statement on the center, according to Marc Sirkin, Autism Speaks Vice President, Social Marketing&Online Fundraising. The Autism Society did not respond to a request for its position on the center and no information about Judge Rotenberg Center could be found on the society's website.

    The National Autism Association stands up against the Judge Rotenberg Center. So do these organizations, who in 2009, stood up for those institutionalized at the Judge Rotenberg Center:

    American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities  
    Association of University Centers on Disabilities   
    The Arc of the U.S.   
    Autism National Committee (AutCom)     
    The Autistic Self Advocacy Network     
    Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies, Syracuse University     
    The Coalition for the Legal Rights of People with Disabilities      
    Cobb and Douglas Counties Community Service Boards              
    Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities               
    Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund               
    Easter Seals            
    Exceptional Parent Magazine             
    Hope House Foundation                     
    The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices         
    The Maine Independent Media Center            
    Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education          
    National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors 
    National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities 
    National Association for the Dually Diagnosed (NADD) 
    National Disability Rights Network Washington, DC
    The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities, University of Delaware 
    Respect ABILITY Law Center             
    RHA Howell, Inc.                   
    Self Advocates Becoming Empowered            
    United Cerebral Palsy          
    University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, School of Nursing           
    University of San Diego Autism Institute             
    The Voices and and Choices of Autism            

    Men and women of good conscience cannot stand quiet on this issue. Each day, disabled individuals at the center are being shocked, some for having the temerity to refuse to remain seated. When concerns about money take precedence over the absolute right of human beings to be free from torture, restraint, and abuse, the morality of society as a whole is in jeopardy.

    I call upon these two organizations, Autism Speaks and the Autism Society, to take a moral stand--to speak up for the victims of the Judge Rotenberg Center, to put the weight and clout of being multi-million dollar organizations into getting the center shut down and the aversive shocks outlawed permanently. 

    Don't let a handful of parents arguing before the Massachusetts government for the continued abuse of their children keep you, Autism Speaks and Autism Society, from speaking out and helping to put a stop to this. Don't let the fear of offense to those who would line your coffers keep you silent.  

    To fail to speak, to fail to act, to fail to show compassion and respect for the rights of these individuals who find themselves consigned to the bizarro world of the center with its opulent reward centers coupled with abusive, painful shocks, some of which come by the dozens, is to fail humanity utterly.

    To be at the forefront of the autism community, to wield fiscal power, demands integrity of the highest order. Failing to speak out against acts like those that happened to Andre McCollins is simply unconscionable.


    I get awareness, blue lightbulbs, whatever. Sort of. But isn't it time we move past that Autism Speaks? Speak up about the abuse and misuse of restraints, seclusion, and aversives!

    You did a great job on this article.
    Thank you for speaking out and bringing this subject more out in the open.

    It is time for the abuse to end. I agree that major autism organizations need to start addressing the abuse that is happening to our children. Why are they silent when this is such a huge issue in the autism community and all these other organizations are fighting to save our children? Where is their support for SB 2020?

    Does Tobinworld = JRC West?

    Yes, they certainly are. My oldest attended Tobinworld for just a few months and was horribly traumatized from the experience. I will never, ever recommend that evil place to anyone.

    Thank you for that --- you have confirmed the suspicians of many.

    Please also see further discussion here:

    This is insane, like the article stated if this was to happen on animals some would be going crazy. Why is this place still around and for soooo long? I am shocked not just by the atrocious actions but by the community that lets this sort of thing happen. I am also shocked that I just learned this today and why I haven't heard about this like I have learned about the Holocaust. For this to happen in america's backyard.... still shocked. o.0 I know this place will not be around much longer....
    It will be temporary because like the kony 2012 type of publicity this will be known to everyone that I know.

    Thanks for posting this and summarizing the actions and that places like this exist.

    Email them anonymously:

    Tell them we said "Hello"

    To the director and staff of the Judge Rotenberg Center, we are Anonymous.

    Your mistreatment of disabled children and young adults has been brought to our attention. Your extensive use of aversive methods, including electric shock and withholding of food as a form of behavioral modification is nothing less than torture. We are aware that your so called treatments include attaching electrodes to students and administering a shock that is up to 20 times more powerful than that delivered by a police taser. We have seen the effects of it in mainstream media broadcasts, and heard the statements of opposition by family and friends.

    The founder, Doctor Matthew Israel was indicted on counts of obstructing justice by ordering the destruction of video evidence that detailed an event involving a student being shocked over 100 times. This is not the first action taken against the center for abuses. However, electric shock is still used as a part of the centers aversive program.

    In response to your torture of these individuals, we have initiated an operation against your center. We are calling upon all concerned citizens to spread the message of opposition through social networks, emails, and phone communications. Contact your local representatives and the Judge Rotenberg Center directly and voice your concern. We will no longer tolerate the abuse of the innocent.

    We are demanding the immediate discontinue of all harsh aversive methods. This is a warning that you should not take lightly.

    We are Anonymous.
    We are legion.
    We do not forgive.
    We do not forget.
    Judge Rotenberg Center, you should expect us.

    Pain is not treatment, it's torture.

    Evil is taking, not giving, as in this case.

    Just being taken from my home and my parents,
    then restrained by sadistic grownups that are supposed to do anything but this,
    even without being tortured for hours on end, just being restrained,
    and screaming for mom and dad, realizing they will NOT come,
    and I'd go into coma for three days too.

    Exactly how is this gonna teach a "violent" kid NOT to be "violent"?
    That's the question. Isn't it simply ironic evil hypocricy?

    Do they WANT to bring upon the children everything from schizofrenia to suicide?
    These sick sadists don't need jail.
    Only "therapy" for them would be something like Hell.
    Only problem is, they already know this themselves as well..

    Psychopathic satanists and luciferians have taken over.

    Time to DO SOMETHING yet?

    Vigilantcitizen com.
    Henrymakow com.
    Occupyjrc org.