At What Point Do Our Actions Constitute Torture?

The New York Times published an OpEd piece yesterday by Bill Lichtenstein about the use of restraints and seclusion rooms for children with special needs in schools.  Please read by clicking ‘here‘.   Bill Lichtenstein writes, “According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population.”

When we speak of a group of people as less than, when we view them through the lens of deficiency, we begin paving the way for the kind of abuse shown in this footage at the Judge Rotenberg Center.

The Judge Rotenberg Center is still operating despite lawsuits, protests and outrage.  The Judge Rotenberg Center, the systematic use of restraints and seclusion rooms in our schools as described in the NYTimes OpEd piece are but a few examples of what happens when we allow ourselves to think of people as “low functioning,” “severely Autistic” or any of the other words so readily used when speaking of Autism .  Those words make incorrect assumptions about a person’s intellect, capabilities and cognition.

When organizations like Autism Speaks and others like them fan the flames of fear by using words like epidemic, devastating, and use war terminology regarding Autism and Autistic people we are creating a toxic environment for those who are Autistic, an environment our children, who will one day grow up to become adults, will inherit.  There is a connection to the current words being used when talking about Autism and the abuse of Autistics.

All of us, each one of us must ask ourselves – if you were unable to speak in a language that those who had power over you understood, if you were spoken of as “broken,” “deficient,” “low functioning” and people treated you as though you were incapable of understanding because you could not make yourself understood, even though you continuously tried, if you were then punished, scolded, yelled at, drugged, restrained, shocked, put into a dark room because you expressed your frustration in the only way you knew how – by acting out, by becoming violent, by self harming –  what would you do?  How would YOU feel?  At what point do our actions constitute torture?

Countless articles have been written about the abuse of disabled children and yet the abuse continues.  Mother Jones published an article  about the Judge Rotenberg Center in 2007, recently updated entitled School of Shock.  

“The Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the country that disciplines students by shocking them, a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers or child molesters or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons.”

The words we use, the organizations we support, the way we speak to and about our Autistic children, as well as Autistic people, matters.  I have done so many things wrong in raising my daughter, I cannot fit it all into a single post.  I have so many regrets, I could fill several pages with the things I tried all in the name of “helping her.”  Emma could not tell me how she felt about the various treatments and remedies I tried and I never thought to ask.  I’ve written about all of this before, the DAN doctors, the specialists, the pediatricians, the stem cell treatments.  If I sit and contemplate what I’ve done to my daughter with the best of intentions, I can barely move.  I feel devastated.  I know I didn’t mean to hurt her.  I know I didn’t mean to harm her.  I know.  I did it because I thought that as her mother it was the right thing to do.  Now I know differently.  Now I know what I did was wrong.  And the only thing I can do moving forward is write about it honestly.  Talk about it.  I can make sure I do things differently now.  I can make sure I talk about these things openly, honestly, not because I am intent on beating myself up, nothing good comes of that, but because maybe, just maybe others may learn from my mistakes.

What we do, how we behave, what we say and how we say it matters.  This is the ripple effect.

Related articles

21 responses to “At What Point Do Our Actions Constitute Torture?

  1. They shock the patient’s, seriously I have not seen that except to be used in very depressed patient’s in a Hospital setting.. That is disgusting.

  2. OOOO do I know this song. Making right after a societal wrong. Again, thanks for spreading the awareness!

  3. Thanks for writing about this, I really don’t understand why that torture center is still allowed to function, I guess people like me really are not considered human.

    My parents made many mistakes that hurted me when trying to help me, they listened to professionals but never knew the voices and experience of people like me was what they needed, I don’t blame them but I’m glad now that changed, I hope more parents notice that too.
    For what I can read from your blog I think you are in a better path now. 🙂

  4. thanks for writing this. I read the NYT article yesterday and I sobbed as the mother of a child with ‘behavioral problems’ then I thanked God that my son’s school believes in doing the hard stuff that actually teachs him something rather than this crap, then I sobbed some more for all the people than do endure this torture. Then I wrote a post about it all, but i just couldn’t go there to the right extent. it’s so painful. So, thank you for responding to the article.

  5. Ariane, you have absolutely the right mentality. And I think you know it makes me absolutely crazy when people (namely Autistic Self Advocates) vehemently attack individual parents for doing various things to their kids. I understand speaking out about the treatment in general, because that serves an important purpose. Attacking individuals, who, like you, did things out of the sheer blind love they feel for their children, is just so wrong. Most parents would go to the moon and back if they thought would help their kids, even if going to the moon and back was actually exactly the wrong thing for the child. But, you and so many other parents are now slowly starting to realize that sometimes the best intentions have other courses of action. And in realizing that, intentions get even better. 🙂 And as I’ve said, Emma is very lucky to have such wonderful parents. Even if she is mad at you, I think she will realize one day that your actions were out of love, and that when you realized the harm they were causing, you changed. And truly, that’s a lesson that everyone can learn from.

  6. Horrifying, disgusting,,how can anyone believe that torture, restraint, and giving someone, a fellow human being, shock treatments,is anything other than certifiable behavior, and in a school too! I, too, sobbed like outrunning the storm did. In my long life, now getting longer by the day, I have heard, read about and seen many horrible acts of humans against other humans, and it seems to be a question of control, of doing to the other what makes you feel comfortable and in control. Have we gone back to the Dark Ages?

    But your blog, Ariane, and the comments of all the brave souls who respond, that is what’s going to change the world, that’s what’s going to prove to be meaningful for parents of autistics, for autistics themselves, whether children or adult, whether non-verbal or able to communicate. I dream of a day when everyone who has to function under a label pasted on them by someone else will be able to communicate, make their inner feelings known, and rip that label off! Only persistence, many voices, and love will lead down that happiness arrow toward a better tomorrow.

    Thank you, all of you who comment and have a forum where your voices can be heard.

  7. Thank you Ariane for what is a very frank blog. I have heard of the Judge Rotenberg Centre. In fact children have died at that Centre and it is still allowed to continue. I was very distressed when about 4 or 5 years ago the Director of the Centre was in Australia advocating for the use of his shock device on children here with autism. A national tevelvision show interviewd him. Seclusion Rooms are used here in Melbourne as well on children with autism and children with intellectual impairments. It is a very real concern that we have repeatedly raised with the education department here and it is ignored.. It is not some thing that is done to children here who are considered neuro typical yet is considered accepable by the education department to put children who are the most vulnerable into seclusion to “manage” them.

    • I saw some footage of a center in England that was so brutal, so heinous, I actually had to stop and walk away before watching the rest of it. Abuse, torture, it is sadly something that has gone on, continues to go on, but if we do not continue, all of us, to speak out, even more will open their doors and continue. The level of rage society unleashes on those with disabilities is incredible. It’s always wonderful to hear from you Liz.

  8. It absolutely astounds me that the JRC is still open, is still supported. I wrote about the JRC on my blog a while back. This facility of torture has been operating for 41 years. 41 years.


    Even though I shared this blog on FaceBook and Twitter, I had a very hard time bringing myself to watch the video. I told everyone it was a “must see” – that people needed to get the word out about what was happening in places like this. But I didn’t want to watch it. I forced myself anyway, for the simple reason that I felt like a jerk asking people to watch something I didn’t have the stomach for myself.

    It was even worse than I imagined, as this kind of horror always is. What was particularly horrifying about this entire story, was that this video was successfully repressed for EIGHT YEARS by the Judge Rotenberg Center administrators and their attorneys. How many innocent victims were tortured like this during that period? How many times were they shocked with stun guns like cattle on their way to a slaughterhouse, for something as insignificant as refusing to take off a jacket on command? How many times was a boy or girl strapped to a table, fitted with a helmet (apparently no tongue guard, because this boy was loudly screaming for help the whole time) and then electro-shocked into unconsciousness. And what happened when they revived? Their tormentors did it all over again, despite their cries for mercy. There was no mercy. The boy in this video was shocked 31 times in one day. Did anyone pause for a single moment to answer his pleas? No. Some of them laughed.

    I have no doubt whatsoever, that while I am writing this paragraph, some helpless, maybe speechless autistic or special needs child, teenager or adult is being tortured in exactly the same way, or worse. His or her cries for help are being ignored or laughed at while the prod is prodded or the switch is pulled. Someone, somewhere is beaten into unconsciousness, molested or murdered before I even put the period at the end of this sentence.

    There are monsters in this world. Real monsters. Sadists. They enjoy hurting people. The people in this video are monsters, plain and simple. They are being paid to enjoy themselves, often with our taxpayer dollars. How’s that for real-life horror? We, the parents of autistics and the adult autistic adults reading this are actually paying the salaries of these sadists – some of which, perhaps even the monsters shown in this tape, are still happily plying their craft.

    I’m not a particularly squeamish person. I watch a lot of horror movies. Gore doesn’t affect me that much. But I’m not the least squeamish person in the world either. The kind of horror movies I like have monsters with claws and scales and tentacles, or are the spawn of Satan, or genetic experiments gone awry. I hate slasher movies. I despise torture porn like “Saw”. Most of all, I hate true-life stories of child abuse. Videos like this one. Or an article about a mother drowning her autistic child because she just couldn’t take it anymore – or even worse, that she was doing the child a favor so he/she didn’t have to grow up “like this.”

    Until I met Ariane, I never wanted to have children. I couldn’t picture myself as a dad, and I was terrified I’d be a lousy one. But nothing in my life has ever been as fulfilling, as wondrous or as important than having children and raising them with my astoundingly amazing wife. There is no “happily ever after” for us, or any other parents. Parenting is hard work. There are so many difficult decisions to make – with the responsibility of our children’s emotional, physical and psychological well being hanging in the balance.

    As Ariane has pointed out on more than one occasion, we have made a lot of mistakes as parents, especially with our autistic daughter Emma. Worse, we made the same mistakes more than once, often over and over. We didn’t mean to be cruel, but that doesn’t change the results of our actions. Like every parent of an autistic child, we were told what needed to be done for Emma to be “cured”. Until recently, it never even dawned on us that curing Emma shouldn’t be the goal. So we took the advice, almost all of it.

    Chronic constipation? Laxatives. Doesn’t work? More laxatives. She leaks shit in her diapers all day, but doesn’t poop? Give her an enema. If that doesn’t work? Give her another. “It doesn’t matter if you have to hold her down to give her an enema. If you don’t do it, you’ll have to bring her into the emergency room and we’ll do it. It’s a lot worse if she doesn’t poop.”

    Really? Now we know there was a better way. We are still learning, but we’re getting smarter, finally, day by day. We have regrets, and they are likely to mount when Emma is able to tell us how difficult we made her life when we thought we were helping her. There is another way. Compassion. Insight. Listening. Learning.

    I believe, now more than ever, that there is a solution. It is a three-part prescription. First, we need to listen to autistic adults, and the advice they can give us, for they are the true experts on what it means to be autistic and understand best how to help our autistic brothers, sisters, sons and daughters have an independent, satisfying life. Secondly, we have to make a lot of noise, so these voices are heard above the din of despair, tragedy, crisis and hysteria currently fueling the discussion. Finally, we have to take actions to end injustice and cruelty, to elect politicians who feel more compassion than greed — to catch the monsters and stop them from torturing the ones we love.

    Most sadists are bullies. Most bullies are afraid. When you stand up to them, when you defeat them even once, the bullying usually stops. But some monsters find a way to hide, dig in, keep growing like weeds. What’s the difference between a sadist, a bully and monster? In my opinion, the biggest, most horrifying monsters are the ones who cash the checks from all the desperate parents who have been convinced that their autistic child must be cured at any cost. The more difficult the child’s behaviors are to cope with, the more they need to be “cured” – as Malcolm X said, “by any means necessary.”

    The Judge Rotenberg Center has resisted every effort to close them down. The video Ariane posted above was aired in April 2012. It was featured on Anderson Cooper and there was an “Occupy” protest in June. Here’s what happened:

    As you can see at the end of the video, the JRC is getting support from parents of the patients (aka the incarcerated) who are equally outraged at the criticism being leveled at the shock-jocks, saying, this is “the only therapy that helped my son and has given him life.”

    His son was apparently not available for comment.

    The result? As of this writing the JRC website is still up – and has plenty of job opportunities! So if you’re a sadistic bully and also happen to be unemployed or unemployable, don’t lose hope – just fill out an application for Crisis Specialist:

    Special needs school in Canton seeks strong individuals to execute behavior modification treatment and manage crises with conduct-disordered youths. Previous corrections or law enforcement experience is required. Excellent advancement opps. & benefits. Varied hours & weekends. $18.00/hr.

    Honestly, I don’t know what it will take to finally generate enough public outcry to pull these goblins out of the cellar and into the light for all to see. Monsters, as we all know, can’t stand the daylight. But some of these blood-suckers have loyal supporters who keep them safe in the shade – while their victims remain shackled in modern day dungeons.

  10. “If I sit and contemplate what I’ve done to my daughter with the best of intentions, I can barely move. I feel devastated. I know I didn’t mean to hurt her. I know I didn’t mean to harm her. I know. I did it because I thought that as her mother it was the right thing to do. Now I know differently. Now I know what I did was wrong. And the only thing I can do moving forward is write about it honestly. Talk about it. I can make sure I do things differently now. I can make sure I talk about these things openly, honestly, not because I am intent on beating myself up, nothing good comes of that, but because maybe, just maybe others may learn from my mistakes.”

    When I think of the countless times I have profusely apologized to others for my daughter being who she is, I am heart-broken. I spent her earliest years trying to “fix” her because it’s what I thought was best for her. It’s so difficult as a parent to admit we have harmed our children, even inadvertently. Thank you so much for your courage and your honesty. It is the only way to move forward.

  11. They said he needed to be shocked because he was “aggressive”? Aggressive, huh? Really? I wonder what he could have done that was more aggressive than committing an act of torture. That’s like Hitler saying he had no choice but to exterminate the Jews because they were simply too genocidal. The US reminds me of Nazi Germany more and more every day. It’s really disturbing, especially because so many people live under the illusion that modern life is so much more civil and peaceful and fair than life was in the past. I tweeted once that I wish I lived a hundred years ago because I thought life would have been better for autistics back then. Several people responded telling me I was wrong and that a hundred years ago they locked autistics up in institutions. Well, that’s true, they did do that to some of them. But I don’t believe anything has improved. We treat autistics kids a little bit differently than we did a hundred years ago. Not better, just different. We haven’t progressed in a forward direction, we only moved sideways. And I still think autistics had it better a hundred years ago than they do now. My grandfather, who I knew well, was an autistic 5 year old a hundred years ago this year. He was accepted and respected as a person and was not discriminated against or abused or bullied the way I was 60 years later. We really have not made any social progress. Somehow we’ve regressed back to a much more primitive society.

  12. Pingback: The Latest From Autism Speaks | Emma's Hope Book

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s