Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Parents seek shock treatment for son
Except for a few words, Bradley Bernstein, 48, can't speak. He often beats himself bloody in the face and eyes.

At age three, Bradley was diagnosed with autism and severe mental retardation. His parents, Fran and Bob Bernstein, say they've tried everything: restraints, psychotropic drugs, you name it. The only thing that gets Bradley to stop hitting himself, they say, is an electric cattle prod.

When their son, who they call their "baby," is hurting himself, they zap him with an electric jolt from the prod. This has been going on for nearly 40 years. Even the attendants at Bradley's various group homes around the Chicago area have been using the prod. (Watch Randi Kaye's piece on the cattle prod treatment)

But last year, the state of Illinois made it illegal to use electric shock treatment in a group home setting or community facility. So Trinity Services, which owns the group home where Bradley lives, has stopped using the prod.

"Our mission is to help people live full abundant lives. I don't think you do that with cattle prods," said Art Dykstra, Trinity's executive director.

Bradley's parents sued Trinity, hoping to force them to use electric shock again, but the case was thrown out because the treatment is against the law. The Bernstein's say Bradley can still be shocked, due to a 1987 agreement with the Illinois Department of Mental Health which allowed for this treatment.

"We feel we were chosen to have Bradley and to give him what he needed in his life. He's a sick boy, a sick man, and we need to be there for him, and someday we won't be around. I have to make sure while we're here that he gets taken care of," Fran Bernstein told me through her tears.

At his group home, when Bradley starts abusing himself, Trinity workers restrain him and give him a drug to calm him down. Bradley's parents still use the cattle prod as needed when he visits them at home. The new law does not prevent that. They say the electric shock is more humane than restraints and drugs.

I actually let Fran Bernstein shock me when I interviewed the family this week. It was painful for a split second, far worse than the shock you get from simple static electricity. The zap from the cattle prod is 4500 volts. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I can see how it might make Bradley forget he was hurting himself and switch to another activity.

The executive director of The Arc, the largest advocacy group for people with mental retardation, calls this type of treatment "torture." What do you think? And who do you think should have the legal right to decide Bradley Bernstein's treatment? His parents or the state of Illinois?
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 2:04 PM ET
  64 Comments
Randi,
I think that the restraints and drugs are much more humane than the cattle prod! IMO the Bernstein's are just used to the shock treatment because they have used it for so long. Maybe they need to open their minds to "new" treatments that aren't so hurtful to their son.

And I agree with the executive director of The Arc. The cattle prod is torture! If the parents don't think so then why don't they let someone do it to them several times a day for a while and see how they like it.
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Covington, Ga. : 2:46 PM ET
Hi Randi,
I think the treatment people seek for themselves or their loved ones, should be off limits to the government. Oversight is one thing, no one wants anyone harmed, but where does it end?
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 2:50 PM ET
I suppose it would be the same if his parents smacked Bradley. He would switch to another activity then too. Why not just give him a lobotomy?
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Saskatoon, Canada : 2:52 PM ET
I will not give an opinion, as I have no experience with autism. I pray for the families that have to live with autism and I also pray that someday a cure will be found.

Reading stories like this one really humbles... How can I ever complain about anything?? I'm just so blessed to have a healthy family... I can't wait to go home and give them all hugs.
Posted By Anonymous C. W. Toms River, NJ : 2:56 PM ET
It's hard to say who should decide, but it's obvious his parents love him. I wouldn't like to see my son restrained but I wouldn't want to be the one to shock him either.
Posted By Anonymous YamiDavie, FL : 3:21 PM ET
I don't think anyone can accurately comment on this unless you have a family member who experiences the same kind of episodes. I'm sure it's much easier to rattle off alternative methods of dealing with this situation then to actually experience and try to deal with it first-hand. I put myself in the shoes of Bradley's mom and dad and wonder what I would do. A little shock is better than watching your son beat his own face in.
Posted By Anonymous Chet, Malvern PA : 3:25 PM ET
Hey Randi~
Shocking report! Didn't we see you get an electrical shock once before? Maybe that's why you seem so cheery!
How alful it must be to know when your life is over you are leaving behind a handicapped child for God only knows who to take care of. I believe the Bernsteins are doing the right thing. If Bradley is abusing and causing himself harm, then I think the cattle prod shock is prohibiting Bradley from seriously injuring himself, especially if the drugs, restraints, and therapy are not working. It would be far more inhumane to allow Bradley to "torture" himself.
I support advocacy groups but sometimes they get so mono~focused that they fail to see the whole picture. In other words, they often times lack common sense. A perfect example of this was last week on the 360 Planet in Peril series where an animal rights activist wanted the baby endgered polar bear killed because it was being raised by humans. KOOKY! That is too extreme.
Thanks for the interesting report Randi. I will see you tonight, probably with your hair smoking and standing on end but I'll bet you have a smile on your face! ;-)
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 3:28 PM ET
many people think that using these types of treatments is torture, but not all of us experienced having love ones suffered from mental illness or retardation. I think that whatever you can do to make their lives a little more comfartable it is up to the family and not the state to decide. I am sure that the parents do not intent to hurt in any way their son. sometimes you have to be in that situation to know how far and willing you're to go for the ones you love.
Posted By Anonymous Diana, N.Y., N.Y. : 3:36 PM ET
Very difficult case because Bradley is incapable of making a conscious decision on his own. However, if the patient is physically self inflicting damages to himself, there needs to be a suitable action. I believe the State of Illinois should make the decision depending whether or not they have had experience with this type of treatment and consult medical opinions based on expertise.
Posted By Anonymous Jin, San Francisco CA : 3:43 PM ET
I was a live in nanny for a family whose son has autism, many times when their son would go into a fit the only solution to snap him out of it would be to hit him, ( I never did this but his parents did, often while sobbing) from an outside view it absolutely seems like abuse, but hitting him was not done as a punishment or to harm it, but to stop him from harming himself and others ( one instance he bit the belt loop off of my jeans while i was still wearing them) What's hard for people to understand is that people who suffer from autism are far from "stupid" and are keenly aware of what is going on, and when they are in a situation where they are trying to communicate and they are not being understood it leads to immense frustration within them, they become over stimulated and have fitful outbursts, and as they get older can over power those around them. I understand why these officials have outlawed the use of the cattle prod, because they feel it is in the best interest of Bradley, but i think if they spent time researching the disease and observing Bradley during his fits they may find that a breif "shock treatment" is at times necessary. My heart goes out to these people, and I hope some conclusion can be made that is in the best interest of Bradley.
Posted By Anonymous Naomi Mac Millan Island Park, NY : 3:44 PM ET
I would want to know what are the short term and long term effects on Bradley's mental, as well as physical, health with the use of this prod?
Posted By Anonymous P. Pace, Jackson, MS : 3:55 PM ET
I don't think anybody has the right to put the parents down for their use of this 'cattle prod', it's a case of 'walk a mile in my shoes'. Obviously the parents aren't going to do anything to their child that they would construe to be any more hurtful than watching him beat himself to death. I would imagine the drug administered would take awhile to work so to them it's probably the best of two evils. On the other hand the state has to answer to the many outcrys from others saying this treatment is inhumane. It should be ruled an individual decision for each patient.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Ontario Canada : 4:02 PM ET
That is really deep.

I don't believe it's "torture" they're doing it to protect him from hurting himself. I don't think the advocacy group has to deal with watching someone beat their face and then trying to stop it by using contraints.

I'm not sure what to recommend, but I'm leaning towards leaving it up to the parents since they've been dealing with it for 40 years.
Posted By Anonymous Darren Atlanta, Ga. : 4:07 PM ET
Randi you definatley get interesting assignments. I hate to say it but if they have tried everything and nothing works but this, how is the kid doing now that they can't use what has been proven to work in the past? I mean I know it sounds bad but if it works the alternative is what? Allow him to harm himself or others? Then the same parents are on the news as abusive parents. It's a no win situation.
Posted By Anonymous Marcy, Mobile, AL : 4:22 PM ET
Like many others here I can't comment on this because I don't have any experience with the situation, but I will comment on something that I did find offensive in another post.

Shocking report! Didn't we see you get an electrical shock once before? Maybe that's why you seem so cheery!

To Betty Ann - NOT FUNNY!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Grace, New Orleans LA : 4:25 PM ET
The report didn't mention whether the shock treatment worked, how long it worked or how often they had to shock him....? Now that it has been discontinued, is he continuously sedated? Or only occassionaly? Is he sedated more often than he was shocked? I think this country sets too much stock in "drugs."
Posted By Anonymous Val Wichita KS : 4:47 PM ET
Randi, I think I've seen some video of you trying out the electric prod, and it looks like you wish you hadn't! As a student, I observed in a highly specialized in-patient unit where electric shock was administered with youngsters who were seriously harming themselves. You'd cringe watching the frequency with which they'd very forcefully hit their heads. At times, it was not possible to keep pace using a mechanical counter to record the frequency. I've worked with children and adolescents with ASD who were severely harming themselves, and have supervised programs to build other skills while trying to eliminate self injury. As part of this, there was alot of use of helmets, mitts, gloves, etc. -- padding --- and working on positive approaches to reducing such behaviour --- playing detective and looking for clues to triggers and making changes to the environment. Communication issues and resulting frustration are often contributing factors. While appearing perhaps less intrusive, restraints are also not without risk and controversy. With an adult, a restraint would likely involve two people. People need to be specially trained. Even so, there are risks to the person being restrained and to those applying the restraint. Injury can occur from people forgetting the correct technique, using a non-approved restraint, or even through use of all the correct techniques. Adrenaline is also flowing, because it's often an emergency-type situation to keep people safe. I've never had to even consider use of shock. Here use of even minimal restraints, such as holding someone's hand gently, has to be supervised by an appropriate professional, monitored, well documented, and reported to parents and government.
Posted By Anonymous Vicky, Ottawa, ON : 4:53 PM ET
Issues like this are difficult all the way around because you are affronted with mental retardation, self afflicted abuse, and electric shock. This triad of difficulty creates a climate of fear and uncertainty about what is in the best interest of the person who has the mental retardation, and as a result, mutilates himself.

Based off of the blog, the parents have either relinquished their full time care of the boy to others, or has decided that someone else has to care for the boy part time in a group home that is more than likely funded by the state.

In my view, that is the first problem. When you turn your child over to someone else to take care of them, either full time or part time in a group home funded by the state, the laws of the state take precedence. I am not judging the parents here, everyone has their circumstances that they have to deal with the best that they know how; but, if a controversial treatment is deemed best for a patient by a medical professional, and the state outlaws that treatment, and the boy is being taken care of part of the time or full time by the state, then the state wins that argument.

Mental retardation is still an area that we as a society do not understand all that well and shy away from. In school, children with mental retardation are placed in the back corner of the building away from the regular education children like they have some kind of a contagious disease. This separation at an early age teaches us that mental retardation is something dark and strange. We are taught that it is best out of sight and out of mind.

Medical research on the best practices dealing with the effects of mental retardation must not be numerous, because the best diagnosis the boy recieved was to be shocked by 4500 volts of electricity via a cattle prod. In our minds that is nothing short of torture, and I don't have to be shocked with that much electricity to know that that hurts very much. Even though I do not have mental retardation, if someone shocked me with that kind of electricity, I would do something else too.

Based from my understanding of the blog, the parents do not have the money or resources for him to have comprehensive treatment that may humanely teach him to redirect his self mutilation behaviors to some other kind of behavior. The lack of resources adversely affects the parents and the child, because apparently the only treatment available is the cattle prod.

I believe that the most humane treatment for the mentally retarded should be available for those who need it. Regardless of cost. If the state outlaws the use of shock treatment for those who mutilate themselves, then the state should provide the most humane treatment to help the mentally retarded live a better life. The boy should not be allowed to bloody himself in the face because it is against the law to jolt him with 4500 volts of electricity. Where is the humanity in that?

The parents should make a better effort of seeing what treatments are out there that would be more humane and work on getting their son that treatment. They need to contact the state and see what their tax dollars pay for and see what programs they can enroll their child in.

He needs to come out of a group home staffed with people who either don't know how to help him or can't help him due to money or state laws. He should be in a facility that caters to the mentally retarded who mutilate themselves.

Since this boy's story is now on 360, possible you can help the boys parents find better treatment for the boy. Maybe representatives for The Arc can work on behalf of the family in getting him the best overall care.

There are no easy or clear cut answers, but there should be more help in getting this boy what he needs.
Posted By Anonymous Madeliene Bolden; Atlanta, Georgia : 4:57 PM ET
Not having an autistic family member and deciding whats best from outside is not accurate or fair to anyone.

I can say this, I have a ton of respect for those that have autistic family and dedicate their entire lives t otaking care of them.

That is something that many of us cannot wrap our brain around.

This man is 48 and his parents have probably spent and given up every goal and dream they had, while we have 16 year olds throwing babys into dumpsters!

To all of those that care for others and actually put words into action, you have my respect.

I couldnt imagine how tough it would be to make decisions and sacrifcies like that!
Posted By Anonymous jason Tampa, FL : 5:14 PM ET
The Arc�s position is: A full and active life supported by caring relationships should minimize the occurrence of problem behaviors in people with mental retardation and related developmental disabilities. When problem behaviors occur, our constituency should have access to positive behavioral supports that focus on improved quality of life as well as reductions in the behaviors.

Behavioral supports should be individually designed and positive, emphasize learning, offer choice and social integration, be culturally appropriate, and allow for modifying or replacing the environment.

Aversive procedures such as electric shock therapy are not consistent with positive, proactive approaches or best practices and must be avoided. This position is consistent with American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability and other national advocacy organizations.

The Arc worked for two years on this legislation with legislators, experts within the Department of Human Services and various medical schools. There was no opposition to this legislation when it was passed.

The Arc has always focused its advocacy on the needs of the individual.

There was a time when professionals and the courts supported aversive techniques including lobotomies, severe hydrotherapy, insulin shock, and sulfur and oil shots. Those treatments are no longer necessary if they ever were.
Posted By Anonymous Tony Paulauski, Executive Director, Homewood, The Arc of Illinois : 5:21 PM ET
What a terrible position the parents are in. I can't imagine having to shock my child. There has to be some other form of containment. I can't believe in this day and age they find shocking acceptable. I don't.
Posted By Anonymous Jess, Paris, KY : 5:35 PM ET
The state of IL has no right to tell these parents what is in the best interest of a child they have nurtured and loved for the last 48 years. Two of my mom's first cousins are mentally retarded (brother and sister). My female cousin died this past year sedated in a nursing home. She was like a six-year old child with limited communication skills. She was so frustrated at times. The same thing happens to her brother still. He's retired in a group home now. And should my great-aunt die before her son our family will continue to care for him as per his parents' wishes as established in their trust for him. I suggest these parents of this man get a lawyer, set up a trust fund to care for their boy (if they can), and find family members who will honor their wishes after they are gone. No one endured the grief and joy my great aunt and uncle have with their children (their oldest son died at birth). No one will ever love them as much as they have. No one has the right to tell them what to do with their family. Shock therapy is still used in small doses to treat some things. If this works better than meds (I agree we rely on pharmaceuticals to solve everything when we shouldn't), then let these parents in IL take care of their son that way. When this guy is chemically and physically restrained, that home doesn't have to worry about him. He's zombied out. But he's also missing out on his life. And mentally retarded people don't have our lives, but they do have lives with worth and they deserve more dignity than to be drugged up so their group home staff doesn't have to bother with them.
Posted By Anonymous TA Cheramie, Berwick, LA : 5:47 PM ET
To apply shock treatment with this autistic man because it is "more humane than drugs" is tragically ignorant and negligent. There are a variety of psychotropic agents that when utilized judiciously can diminish these behaviors with a minmimum of side effects especially when combined with a behavioral management program. I'd suggest a consultation with a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of developmentally disabled adults.
Posted By Anonymous Richard Kessler, Roslyn, New York : 6:01 PM ET
I believe in positive reinforcement and positive behavioral supports. No human being should be tortured. I may not be able to imagine how difficult some situations for parents could be, but I know nothing would cause me to use electrical shock on my child.
Posted By Anonymous Janet Donahue, Tinley Park, IL : 6:02 PM ET
This is actually a continuation of a story that began years ago. Perhaps a bit more perspective is called for--and please bear in mind that you can look this man's story up online to find these details, should they appear unsubstantiated in this posted comment.

Bradley Bernstein's shock treatments began when he was a child. He is currently 48. The fact that, around 40 years ago, he did not respond to available behavior modification techniques is no excuse for believing there are no non-aversive treatments that could work NOW. Knowledge of how to assist individuals with disabilities has grown astronomically compared to what we had back then. Back then, a punishment-based system might have honestly been the best option his treatment team was aware of...but that is simply not the case anymore.

Bradley had tried several drug treatments as well...in the distant past. He was allergic or did not respond to them...in the distant past. We aren't living in the 60's anymore, though--a blanket "drugs won't work" approach like it seems the parents have taken is little more than voluntarily being close-minded. Psychiatry has come a long way in the last 40 years, and perhaps it's Bradley's turn to benefit from the last couple decades of advances. Additionally, the days of patients wandering the halls of a psych ward in a drugged stupor are long gone, properly-managed medication simply doesn't (and hasn't) work that way. Bradley will still be Bradley...but with a pill instead of a 4500 volt kick-in-the-teeth.

Bradley himself is becoming easier to handle in time, as well. He's approaching 50, that's hardly a surprise. He isn't even the most difficult individual receiving treatment from Trinity Services anymore--yet he is the only one out of the sixteen thousand people in state-funded homes who gets shock punishments. Little wonder Trinity doesn't think it's the best approach.

I do not doubt that the parents genuinely wish for Bradley's well-being. I am convinced, however, that they simply do not understand the gravity of the treatment he receives--she has said, on record, that she thought the shock was so tiny it was "like walking on carpeting and touching a light switch"...but as the correspondent writing the above article can attest, a Hot-Shot Power-Mite (the prod used on Bradley) packs a lot more punch than your carpet.

A cattle prod might have been the best the 60's could offer Bradley Bernstein...these days, there's just no excuse for punishing him that way. The fact that Bradley still beats himself to the point that he requires medical attention, despite 40 years of treatment based on using cattle prods, should be all the evidence one needs to realize that electric shocks will never truly help him. It's time to get with the times and actually help him rather than simply punishing him for his disability.
Posted By Anonymous Tim, Reno NV : 6:04 PM ET
I don't know if I can blog again and maybe I am off base, but I would like to respond to the Mr. Tony Paulauski's post. I believe you when you say that you work for the individual and you have worked on legislation to get practices like lobotomies and shock therapies outlawed, but what can you do to help this man who apparently does not have any other means to curb is self abusive behavior other than shock therapy? The parents seem to believe that shock therapy is THE BEST treatment for their son. You say, that there are better treatments. Can their son get to those better treatments? Is there money available that their son can use to pay for those treatments? I am only going from the blog here, but it just seems that as a parent, if I knew that my child, regardless of age, would be in an environment where he or she is being taken care of and not mutilating themselves, then I would rest easier. If there are treatments that my child could have access to that would improve their quality of life, I would rest easier. I would have some faith in the fact that my child will be o.k. after I am gone. It appears to me the parents don't want their son to be in a position where he hurts himself after they are gone. You all are the experts, can you help them with that?
Posted By Anonymous Madeliene Bolden, Atlanta, Georgia : 6:04 PM ET
I think using an electric cattle prod is torture and it should be stopped. Hats off to Trinity Services for stepping up and doing the right thing.
Posted By Anonymous Diane, Tinley Park, IL : 6:05 PM ET
In any other situation a cattle prod would be considered torture. Why is it different for a person with disabilities? It is hard to believe that in this new century such tactics are still in use. No doubt the parents love their son, but in this day and age, there are other approaches that can be utilized to control these behaviors, which the group home is trying to use. Evidently the legislators in Illinois felt it was inhumane � this legislation passed without opposition.
Posted By Anonymous Mary Lynne,Lansing,IL : 6:09 PM ET
Giving him CNS depressants every time he goes into a rage is far worse. Restraints require a physical struggle and the drugs render him blotto for the next 16-24 hours. The prod gives him a brief jolt and then the situation stabilizes. To quote the Ramones "Gimme Gimme shock treatment".
Posted By Anonymous Ray- Denver, CO : 6:10 PM ET
Isn't there any better treatment? If so, wouldn't this be considered abuse? The parents have the legal right to decide this man's treatment, however, there must be oversight into the treatment process.
Posted By Anonymous Shruti Bala, Glendale, AZ : 6:11 PM ET
If people with severe depression are able to choose ECT Electroconvulsive Therapy - why is this so controversial? Have YOU ever witnessed THAT treatment, or seen the aftermath? How could anyone with severe depression have the mental capability to agree to ECT? But they do and in the USA this treatment is still available and you don't have to search too hard to find it.

Just because something hurts, that doesn't mean it's bad for you. People inject themselves multiple times a day with insulin, and hey - IT HURTS TOO - but the help is worth the hurt.

If people can mutilate their daughter's body to keep their "little angel", this seems right in there.
Posted By Anonymous Kim , Midland MI : 6:14 PM ET
There are a lot of comments here referring to the "boy" or the "child." This man is 48. Whether that is relevant or not, I don't know. It seems like outsiders and the government are so ready to jump in and run a course of medical treatment for someone else (remember Terri Schiavo?), they are very dangerous armchair quarterbacks to say the least. It's so easy to second guess when you don't have to live their lives.
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Salt Lake City : 6:16 PM ET
Parents may feel that's the best way to deal with the child who is self-abusive. The State should definitely have a say especially when the indivdual stays in a group home. Shock treatment may appear useful from his parent's perspective but does Bradley feel happy when he receives it?? I don't think so!!There are ways to deal with indivduals with autism using other remedies and electric shock is not the solution. Temporary benefits may be seen by his parents but Bradley has to feel the jolt of the current and not his parents. No human being who is competent would want to be in this situation and neither should a person with autism. The parents should reflect on their acts and cope with his behaviour instead of torturing this incompetent indivdual.
Posted By Anonymous Jacquie, Ontario, Canada : 6:41 PM ET
First, I have no doubt that Bradley's parents love him very much. The initial use of shock treatments back in the 80's was probably one of the toughest decisions they had to make. Who wants to shock their child!

Now 40 years later they must make another tough decision-will they support Bradley as he learns a new positive approach to dealing with his self abuse? New information has been learned, new approaches have been tried and successful. Alot has happened in the last 40 years.

I believe this is torture no mater how you look at it and I believe every state has a responsiblity to protect its citizens from torture. Good for Illinois!

Other positive supports must be given a chance. Bradley must be given an opportunity to learn the expected action, stop hurting himself, when these positive supports are provided. This may take some time, he has 40 years of learned behavior to deal with. The techniques must be consistent and the parents should stop shock treatment NOW! If they refuse Protection and Advocacy should be consulted. A combination of techniques may be necessary initially-maybe medication to calm him AND redirction to an activity he enjoys. This might require a one-on-one support person at first. I hope Bradley is given an opportunity to prove other techniques can be successful. He will be in my prayers.
Posted By Anonymous Vickie Wilson, Illinois : 6:48 PM ET
Everyone always seems to know what other peoples' children need. Randi Kaye's question simply invites people to opine about things that they would not ask their neighbor to speak on if the topic were about their own childrens' behavior.
Posted By Anonymous Howard, Dallas, TX : 6:49 PM ET
Parents using an electric cattle prod on their son? The parents should be in jail for physical abuse. 4,500 volts is not a gentle reminder. This set of parents have no humanity left. They must both be crazy. Let's use a cattle prod on the parents every time the son is hurt.
Posted By Anonymous Nancy Underlin Springfield, MO : 6:52 PM ET
Firstly, if you are going to compare a caddle prod shocking devise to "shock therapy" you need to educate yourself! "Shock Therapy" requires a thick rubber bit to be placed in the mouth so that the patient does not bite their own tongue off, the patient is strapped down, bound, and there is often a nurse present to hold the head down as well. This treatment IS still legal in all states, as is lobotomies.

In the case of the Bernsteins, the method used is called "negative reinforcement." As a sufferer of OCD, I have WISHED for a method of this sort to use on MYSELF for my own self-destructive behaviours! In the past, pyschologist and psychiatrist have given me countless negative reinforcement methods that have NOT worked... how is one able to carry arround a bucket of ice-water to plundge their hand into every time the behaviour is recognized! Ridiculous. I have a university degree, a post-grad, and an overly-functional personality (lol), and i have BEGGED for a negitave reinforcement method such as small shock therapy.

If you want to talk about child torture, just look over at your alcohol-consuming neighbours' children, don't pick on a family coping with something you have no experience with and worse, no education in!
Posted By Anonymous Nikki Gordini, Toronto, Canada : 12:03 AM ET
I think the parents should be prosecuted for child abuse! The child/adult has a medical issue, that needed expert medical care, not the treatment from his ignorant parents!!
Posted By Anonymous Mary, Houston, Texas : 12:07 AM ET
It's easy for us to "judge" this family but the truth is one doesn't know untill they have walked in their shoes.

I don't know where they got the idea of this type of treatment but I have to wonder why they don't or have not taken him to a doctor who specializes in shock therapy. They are out there and this treatment is used on many different disorders... They have been known to use this treatment on bi-polar patients... as well as on children.

I personally feel that the cattle prod is extreme as I have not seen any medical documentation to back up its use. There are many other ways of redirecting Autistic children but one also must realize that most Autistic children have sensory integration disfunction this is why he self stimulates (bangs head, hits self etc...)

I don't think the Government should get involved... they have too much control of our personal lives as it is. It's funny how they can tell us what to do with our kids... how we can and can not disipline them but yet they don't pay childsupport.

I am the mother of an Autistic child and I would never let anyone do that to my child.... not even a doctor but that's my choice.
Posted By Anonymous Kimber, Ocala, Fl : 12:22 AM ET
I think that they know what's best for their son. I doubt that they would do anything that would harm their son.
Posted By Anonymous Gabrielle, Denver, Co : 12:40 AM ET
I agree with the executive director of The Arc - this type of treatment is torture, not just for those suffering mental retardation, but for any living thing.

I think there are other ways to redirect Bradley; ways which do not include inflicting pain. Psychotropic medications and diet are clearly the better alternative, as restraint falls, in my opinion, into the category of torture.

As for the Bradley's, any parent (or medical professional) who would encourage this method of "redirect" (and for this length of time)is in my opinion not competent to decide Bradley's treatment. Further, any state that would permit such treatment is not competent to decide as well.

The question now becomes: Who then advocates for the Bradleys' of this world? Thank you ARC.
Posted By Anonymous Ms. Mangus, North Tonawanda, New York : 12:54 AM ET
His parents,they love him
Posted By Anonymous DJ Fargo, North Dakota : 1:11 AM ET
I think the parents have their son's
best intrest at heart after trying other types of treatments if the
shock treatment gets the desired results without causing any lasting
ill effects I say leave them alone. let
them take care of him or if someone has
a better idea then lets here it.
Posted By Anonymous Jimmy Heidelberg Spring Lake : 1:19 AM ET
As someone with autism and who has had meltdowns resulting in violence agianst myself, and worse, others, I actually do agree with the parents decision. Drugs can do horrible things to a person, stuff not even doctors know about. Restraints are damaging emotional and scary when you finally are able to realize the world around you again. I would have much rather been shocked than tranquilized and restrained. It also would have been far easier on my parents, family and others who took care of me.
Because of this, I think the parents did make a good decision. It is just that each person has to figure out which treatment methods are the best.
Posted By Anonymous Amanda from Green Bay, WI : 3:10 AM ET
Good for Mr. & Mrs. Berstein on pushing this, your article says that they are now using drugs, and other methods to control Bradley's behavior. Why is that always the answer?, if your child is disruptive in school, well heck, give him ritalin, why not, it makes everyone elses life easier. What about the life of the child/adult? This (cattle prodding) has obviously worked much better than the drugs for the past 40 or so yrs. So why not leave well enough alone. Afterall, are we not constantly trying to keep our kids off drugs? Good Luck to Mr. & Mrs. Bernstein. Dawn Baker, Edm., AB Canada.
Posted By Anonymous Dawn Baker, Edm., AB, Canada : 3:28 AM ET
I disagree with the use of shock treatments in this case. One person mentioned ECT, but failed to research that treatment. ECT is a treatment of last resort in people with depression or bipolar disorder, as it CAN cause serious harm. It is also not something that is done to someone very regularly.

As the comment from Trinity staff noted, a lot has changed since the 1960's, when the parents began giving their son shock treatments. Much has been learned about autism and far more humane, and successful, behavior modification therapies have been developed, as well as means for such individuals to communicate with others.

I have worked with severely autistic individuals before, at a camp for adults for developmental disabilities. I have lived with a severely schizophrenic roommate. Behavior modification today DOES NOT MEAN the patient is gorked out on drugs. Medication is only used as an adjuvent to assist situations that don't improve with standard therapies, and as the patient learns new, less destructive behaviors, doses are lowered, even stopped. The main goal in therapy is not to punish a behavior, but to steer that behavior to something productive, rather than destructive... and IT WORKS!!!

And don't tell me he can't communicate or understand. You'd be surprised at HOW MUCH a severe autistic understands, but lacks the proper wiring to let others around them understand. If you don't believe me, check out the channel of "SilentMiaow" on YouTube... a profoundly autistic lady who has found a way to connect with "normal" people, and share her experience, and her language, with everyone. Here's the URL:
http://www.youtube.com/user/silentmiaow
Posted By Anonymous Belinda, Golden, Colorado : 3:40 AM ET
My question is has anyone ask those who have autism, those who can communicate with us like Amanda Baggs, their opinion on these issues?
Wouldn�t their opinions bring better light to the controversy?
Posted By Anonymous LaiPengFoong, Penang, Malaysia : 5:05 AM ET
Absolutely the parents.
Posted By Anonymous Dolores, Provo, Utah : 5:19 AM ET
The beginning of the article says: 'he beats himself bloody in the face and eyes;, so, is this not worse than the shock?
Posted By Anonymous Chuck J, Pike, WV : 7:57 AM ET
His care should be left to a State appointed guardian. The use of a cattle prod amounts to abuse despite the parent's claim that it stops an unwanted behavior. The parents should only be allowed supervised visitation until they can learn better ways to redirect their son's harmful behavior.
Posted By Anonymous J. Fuller, LCSW Bloomfield, NJ : 8:42 AM ET
Risperadol and Haldol are antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia. They are heavy duty tranquilizers. If given a choice, my child would never be on them unless absolutely necessary. Has everyone lost their minds putting people on meds unwarranted?
Posted By Anonymous TA Cheramie, Berwick, LA : 9:09 AM ET
I don't think the cattle prod is inhumane or barbaric. I kept my autistic grandson last summer and, believe me, when you see an autistic person biting themselves or punching themselves black-and-blue in the face or head-banging, you're about ready to do whatever it takes to get them to stop. I sported many, many bruises from trying to get him to stop hurting himself. The choice is to do whatever it takes, or to let the kid beat himself to a bloody pulp. I'd like to see the naysayers spend the time I've spent watching these tantrums and see how they handle it. This kid was only 3 at the time and beat himself with a vengeance - a child abuser couldn't have done a better job than what he did to himself. I can't imagine having to deal with an overweight 48-year-old cutting a path of destruction all around himself, who's a menace to himself and other. I say "shock him" to spare him a worse fate.
Posted By Anonymous Celeste B., Clarksville, TN : 9:16 AM ET
While I sympathize with the parents wanting to prevent their child from harming himself, I feel that they are being done a disservice by being allowed to think that using such arcane means of control is their only option. It should also be a grave commentary on what they must have faced as young parents, with no support for themselves, when Autism was seen as the fault of the family.
They need compassion and lots of help, rather than our disdain and disgust. I feel very strongly that they deserve aid, and unedr other circumstances, would be able to seek a malpractice suit against the medical professionals that led them down this path.
Posted By Anonymous A. Gray- Stafford, CT : 9:18 AM ET
As a parent of a severely retarded son who now outweighs me so that even the simple tasks of daily care can be a struggle, I feel for the parents but still can't abide by the use of aversives although it might make my life easier, and even appear to make stressful evenets less so for my son. It wouldn't be allowed for any other group - even death row is supposed to pain free. We need to have another solution. Professionals like the direct care staff at Trinity will work tirelessly on behvior modification techniques. I'm sorry for the parents and their struggles and though I haven't walked a mile in their shoes, I have a pretty good idea of the terrain they're on.
Posted By Anonymous Martha Dowling, Belleville, IL : 10:02 AM ET
I have a son who has autism and mild mental retardation. What Bradley's parents are doing is unconscionable. He is not an animal, yet they correct his behavior as if he were one.

I don't know of anyone who could use a device such as this on their own child and call it love.
Posted By Anonymous Todd Elia, Dallas, Texas : 10:23 AM ET
The story itself provides Randi's personal account of how, when shocked with the cattle prod, it was "painful for a split second." For all of those bemoaning this treatment as "torture", how does that split second of pain compare with being grabbed and held down while someone administers a sedative? By the way, the sedative administered is most likely by means of an injection (fast acting). Depending on the skill of the person administering the injection and the medication being injected - some burn, some ache - those can be painful for several minutes. While I would agree there need to be rules governing the use of shock treatments, in this situation the parents are making the best of a bad situation.
Posted By Anonymous Gerry Spearman, Mesquite, TX : 10:31 AM ET
I don't know this man's history, but has another Autistic ever come to talk with him? I thought that Autistics could communicate with each other easier than with Neurotypicals.

I also wonder if Bradley was Mentally retarded to start with or just didn't have access to the kinds of communication tools that help non-verbal Autistics these days. However, after 40 years of shock therapy mental damage is pretty likely.
Posted By Anonymous Miriam, Farmington, MI : 10:54 AM ET
Anyone who was dealt with sedation for metal illness may actually sympathize with the autistic boy for having a family unwilling to pump him full of drugs.
Posted By Anonymous john, ogden, ut : 11:15 AM ET
My childhood girlfriend has an autistic child. Often as a toddler he would bang his face and head on the floor, causing injury to himself. She and her husband would take a spray bottle and spray his face with water until he stopped, which he usually did after a few moments.

I definately think that the parents' rights trump the government's rights. What may seem cruel may be the only thing that works.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family. God speed!
Posted By Anonymous Jacqueline, Astoria, NY : 11:22 AM ET
For 48 years, these loving parents have watched their son severly hurt himself. They have tried doctor's advice, medications and restraint methods and the shock from the prod must produce the quickest results. This is their child, they know what works. I would not want to watch my own child beat himself bloody. If they are not able to administer medication, they have the right to use what works for them. I will pray for this family.
Posted By Anonymous Andi, Parker Colorado : 11:37 AM ET
Clearly the cattle prod is NOT working--after 40 years there has been no improvement. It is only a temporary solution, but the behavior continues to be as bad as when Bradley was a child. As a Behavior Specialist for an agency that serves adults with developmental disabilities, I am confident that there is a way to modify the behavior in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, this takes time, patience, and cooperation from the parents. In addition, it would be nice if the parents actually referred to their son as a man, not a "boy" or "baby." He deserves that respect.
Posted By Anonymous Samantha, Highland Park, IL : 11:43 AM ET
It is difficult if not impossible for anyone who is not in the Bernstein's position to truly know what is right or wrong for them to do. Clearly, they are not intentionally "torturing" their son. Many treatments, whether surgical or drug-related, do far more long term biological damage to the patient, and it sounds to me like the Bernsteins are trying to apply a treatment that they know works without causing extreme pain or permanent damage. Unfortunate as it is, I think they should be allowed to continue the use of electric shock for their son.

The bottom line is, absent a showing of negligence or intentional infliction of harm, the right of choice rests with the parents and should never be given over to the state or the government. Parents should carry both the rights and the responsibilities for the care of their children.
Posted By Anonymous L. Boston, Fort Collins CO : 12:07 PM ET
I am the parent of young man with the same needs. I can't imagine doing this, even on my son worst day! Autism is a communication disorder. So when someone can not tell us how the feel, what they want or need we shock them becasue we see the behavoir as wrong? Drugs wear off scares are forever!
Posted By Anonymous Jamie Stewart Springfield MO : 12:09 PM ET
Perhaps turning down the voltage significantly to obtain the smallest cattle prodding dosage required to be effective. Listen, I'm not advocating abuse, but it is a duty of parents to socialize their children into society. I don't like the idea of electric shock, but pain does create consequences that defer unwanted behaviors. How else are consequences going to effect change? Turn him towards drug dependency? Do we really need more Anna Nicole Smiths around?
Posted By Anonymous Jane, Columbia SC : 12:09 PM ET
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