The Canton Patch
by Greg Miller
April 17, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Former Teacher’s Aid at Judge Rotenberg Center Comments on FOX TV Video of JRC Shock Treatments

Former Judge Rotenberg Center employee responds to Fox News video released in court last week.

Editor’s note: This is a Letter to the Editor by former JRC employee Gregory Miller. Miller is commenting on the graphic Fox TV video  of JRC student Andre McCollins being shocked that was shown in court last week.

My name is Greg Miller.  I worked at the Judge Rotenberg Center as a Teacher’s Assistant (with Massachusetts Teacher’s Certification) for three years, starting in January of 2003, and ending in March of 2006.  I resigned and left on my own accord, then I wrote Dr. Israel a letter to inform him why I resigned.  I was interviewed for Mother Jones Magazine, for Boston Globe, and for ABC Nightline, in 2007.

I wanted to add more information regarding the 4-point board shocks and the context in which they were used.  What you do not see in this student’s case on this video that I did observe with other students is the added element of psychological torture through the means of positioning the staff with the remote control outside of the door of the room with a silent timer.

Normally when a student knows he or she is about to get shocked, they instinctively tense up their muscles in anticipation of the shock as soon as a staff reaches for the remote control.

You can see Andre [McCollins] in this video tensing up his body in anticipation of the 16th or 17th shock out of 31 shocks that he received for the day.

By having the staff with the remote control and timer stand outside of the classroom door, the student would not know when the next shock was coming.  For some students, the amount of time between each shock would be varied, say a five minute wait before one shock then a 15 minute wait until the next shock, so that the student on the four-point board would literally go crazy in anticipation by not knowing when the next shock was going to take place.  When the shocks are spaced out over time at uneven intervals, and without the ability to see a staff reach for the device, students would tense up their bodies and scream, over and over, thinking that the shock was about to take place, until their muscles would get so tired that they could no longer tense up.  The student then would sadly “give up” in apathy, much like a prey who has already lost.

This added element of varying the minutes between the electric shocks in my opinion was much worse than the horrific shocks themselves.  It added a whole other dimension of helplessness and hopelessness to a student who was already tied up to the board and getting shocked.

The ability for students to tense up their muscles in anticipation of a shock gives the student at least some hope of protecting themselves from severe pain, and with that gone, and with the muscles and student voice giving out from repeated tensing up of the muscles and the screaming and crying, some students appeared to resign their will to live.

For those who have not been there in person to witness those psychiatric “treatments,” it may be difficult to visualize how significant those varied timed shocks were to students, or to imagine how bad those treatments really were.  I cannot imagine any sane parents watching a video of their child receiving that kind of treatment and approving of the treatment for their child.  I do NOT believe that parents have made an “informed consent” when they have their children placed on those treatments because they have not seen what those treatments actually look like until now.

I am also certain that other parents, including those whose children are NOT placed on 4-point boards for electric shocks, are not giving an informed consent to have their children shocked at JRC.  Parents, with one exception that I saw in my entire three years at JRC, were not permitted into the classrooms.  If parents could spend time inside the classrooms, they would see students getting shocked for many mild behaviors, with no distinction made between tearing a small thread or a paper cup as different from tearing posters off the walls.  The student plan says to shock them regardless.  There was no distinction between standing up and politely raising a hand to ask to go to the bathroom versus standing up in an act of aggression.

Worst of all was when one student had a behavior, and ALL of the students were punished in the room of up to 40 students by having to watch their classmate get shocked, which I view as being significantly penalized due to the severe trauma.  For this reason, I believe that all of the children were being punished even though they were not exhibiting any behaviors, merely for being there in the classroom minding to their own task.

I was having nightmares as a teacher, and some of the other staff who I spoke to were also having nightmares.  We were not even wearing backpacks with electric shock devices or electrodes strapped to our bodies!  The students often did not know if they had exhibited a behavior, or if it was a classmate who had exhibited a behavior.  It was not uncommon when one student had a behavior for the staff to merely reach for the remote control on his or her belt, triggering five or seven other students to all react in panic with behaviors that cause each of the children to get shocked.  One student would yell out in fear, another might jump out of his seat, another student might try to pull her electrodes off of her skin or scream, or another student might hold the arm of the staff who had the remote control.

Another student might throw down his task onto his table in a panic, and other students might just sit in their seats and scream and yell.  All of these behaviors were defined as “GED”-shock behaviors, and we were required to shock all of the students exhibiting these behaviors along with the one student who had the initial behavior.

On a number of occasions, a staff would reach for a pencil in an apron pocket triggering students in their state of high anxiety to think that the staff was reaching for the remote controls, and resulting in groups of students being shocked when they reacted.

I don’t believe a parent has made an informed consent to such treatment until they have been in the classroom and have seen their child and other children react together under such great stress.  If I had nightmares as a staff from working at JRC, and I did not have electrodes tied to me, just imagine what it is like for non-verbal children who are tied to the electrodes and devices in their backpacks 24-hours per day!

One parent approved a plan for her son with autism to get shocked every time he closed his eyes for 15 seconds while at his desk, but I believe that was just one bad parent who didn’t like the fact that her son had autism.  For most of the parents, I believe they were largely misinformed and desperate.

Personally, I never intentionally shocked a student tied to a 4-point restraint board, nor had I shocked a so-called “high functioning” student (which meant mostly normal cognitive and verbal abilities) in my three years at the Judge Rotenberg Center.  I worked mostly with students with autism who had severe behaviors and who I did not see tied to 4-point restraint board to be shocked multiple times.

But I was working in the room a number of times when higher functioning students were tied to the 4-point restrain
t boards getting shocked, which left me feeling nauseous and in nightmares for days until my doctor advised me to leave for the sake of my own health.

If I could emphasize two messages in response to watching the video clip on Fox News of Andre McCollins, it would be to say, “Yes!  It really is that bad, and much worse!”, and that Andre’s mother absolutely must be genuine in saying that she did not give an informed consent for her son to be treated in that way.  Parents may sign permission for their children to be shocked, but that is very different from actually seeing the treatments and how the treatments are executed.  There is no “informed” consent until parents have seen what they are actually approving.