At first glance, the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts, looks like something out of Disneyland. It's a kind of magical place, with plush rooms and lots of games and adventures for the students. But it is also the only place in the country that uses aversion shock therapy on its students -- some of whom are as young as six years old.
The center was founded by Dr. Matthew Israel, who designed a shock device called a GED, or gradual electronic decelerator. The students, who have few options when it comes to schooling due to behavioral issues or mental disabilities, wear up to five electrodes at a time strapped to their arms and legs. The gadget itself is housed in a fanny pack worn by the student. If a student acts out or becomes violent with staff members, the student gets a two second shock to the skin.
But now, a Long Island, New York, woman is suing the state of New York because her son was shocked at the center. New York sent him to the center in Massachusetts after nobody in New York could treat him properly. Aversion shock therapy is illegal in New York but legal in Massachusetts.
She wants her son, Antwone Nicholson, who has severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), removed from the center. But Dr. Israel says the shock therapy was helping Antwone, just as it has thousands of others before him. Dr. Israel says Antwone's violent episodes dropped from 5,000 a week to none after he was placed on the GED device. Antwone's mom says she didn't think his behavior was too bad. But she signed the paperwork for him to get the treatment. She says she didn't think it would hurt so much.
When I went to the center to interview Dr. Israel, I tried the aversion shock device to gauge its power. I put one electrode on my arm and shocked myself using a remote control. I had been told by the center's employees that it feels like a bee sting or a pin prick. Let me tell you, it hurt far worse than that. Two seconds felt like two minutes. It was like a parade of pins stabbing me in the arm. I could see why students would alter their behavior after feeling that sensation.
What do you think? Should shocks be used as a way of controlling behavior in children? Or is it, as critics call it, inhumane?