Monday, January 14, 2008

Blogging Against Aversives

Is it OK to teach a child “appropriate behavior” with these types of punishment – ammonia sprayed up the nose, water shot in the face, forced to eat jalapeno peppers, or electric shock? You’d probably say NO WAY!

But what if the child has severe behavior problems, say swears excessively, bangs her head against the wall, bites himself or others, or is otherwise violent towards himself? How bad would a behavior have to be to warrant such violence towards the child? And who decides?

Some people advocate that there are children who are so difficult that they warrant these extreme consequences. Here’s a New York Times article from 1997 discussing one family’s experience with a school, now called the Judge Rotenberg Center, that administered the consequences listed above. Here is the 1999 obituary of the same young man, who, after his parents pulled him out of the school, later lived successfully with support in an independent living center, but died from infections resulting from harming himself.

A yearlong investigation of the Judge Rotenberg Center is documented in School of Shock: Inside the taxpayer-funded program that treats American kids like enemy combatants and is a must read. It has resulted in hearings to look into the school and the regulation of aversive conditioning.

So, back to the question – is it sometimes OK to do horrible things to children? If the situation is really dire? Is it OK to hurt a child if it stops a bigger hurt? I say no. We need resources, funding, research, respect and real support for these children and their families. Support and help that starts at a very young age.

Not violence. Never violence. There must a better way. These human beings deserve a better way.

For much more on this topic, check out the links at Uppity Disability.
Personal experience with aversive treatment from Amanda at Ballastexistenz. Heartwrenching to read. Thanks to Kay for the link.

UPDATE: I am turning off comments on this post. I do not have time to moderate a respectful discussion, and I do not want to risk having the comments deteriorate into meanness or nonsense that takes attention away from this serious issue.