FDA Prohibits Use of Electric Shock Devices Employed for ‘Aversive Conditioning’ on Individuals with Mental Disabilities

Since 2013, shock devices have only been employed at one facility in America: The Choose Rotenberg Academic Center of Canton, Massachusetts is using shock devices as part of their curriculum for individuals living with autism and related conditions.

File photo shows a therapist checking an electrical shocking device during an exercise program at Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass.
File photo shows a therapist checking an electrical shocking device during an exercise program at the Choose Rotenberg Academic Center in Canton, Massachusetts.
Faculty directors often rely on shocks as an effective last resort in combatting undesirable behaviors such as head-banging, throwing furniture around or attacking academics and classmates.

Electrical shock therapy and similar painful interventions commonly known as “aversive conditioning” were once widely accepted; however, contemporary psychiatry now utilizes behavioral modification, pharmaceutical drugs and alternative approaches as part of mainstream care.

“Thanks to advances in medical science, there are now more therapy options available to combat self-injurious or aggressive conduct,” according to Dr. William Maisel of FDA’s device center.

Rotenberg school students used shock devices carried in their backpacks that connected via electrodes to legs and arms of students; faculty staffers could set off two-second shocks by remote controller.

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Some Rotenberg Center patients have likened the shocks they received to that of bee stings or worse, prompting a series of lawsuits from families alleging traumatization of their children by these shocks, while other parents believe that approach was essential in stopping violent conduct caused by psychological disabilities.

In its press release, the FDA noted that treatment can exacerbate harmful behaviors and lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress dysfunction for some users, in addition to burns and tissue damages as reported by users, according to company reports.

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Regulators noted that those experiencing such behaviors should seek alternative forms of therapy that focus on either eliminating any factors which cause these actions or providing techniques to cope with them effectively.

This report has been prepared in cooperation with The Related Press.

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