Saturday, July 22, 2006

Autism Abu Ghraib?

Sometimes an e-mail arrives that makes you sick to your stomach. And just when you were settling into your delicious summer sans camp . . .

This week I received one from Wrightslaw about the recent adoption of an Emergency Resolution of the New York State Education Department that allows schools to use aversives when approved on an IEP.

Aversives are defined as:
  • noxious, painful, intrusive stimuli or activities intended to induce pain such as electric skin shock, ice applications, hitting, slapping, pinching, kicking, hurling, strangling, shoving, deep muscle squeeze
  • noxious, painful or intrusive spray, inhalant or tastes
  • withholding sleep, shelter, bedding, bathroom facilities or clothing; withholding meals, limiting essential nutrition or hydration
  • movement limitation used as a punishment, including but not limited to helmets and mechanical restraint devices
  • placing a child unsupervised or unobserved in a room from which the student cannot exit without assistance
Although the Emergency Resolution initially reads as though it prohibits aversives, read on, to section 200.22 and beyond, where the "exceptions" are outlined.

Most remarkably, the Emergency Resolution requires "the humane and dignified treatment of the student." Sounds like the language of the Geneva Convention — and we know how well that has worked out for prisoners of international conflicts.

As the Wrightslaw e-mail points out, the fact that these regulations were enacted on an "emergency" basis, with no public hearings or public comment, gives parents and child advocates some time to plan and implement a strategy to persuade the policy-makers that these regulations are - inhumane.

When I called the office of my state assembly person, Deborah Glick, to inquire about this emergency resolution, a staffer there said she'd do some research and call me back. When she called back she assured me that aversives could not be used unless the IEP mandated it and the Commissioner had reviewed the IEP. I can't begin to tell you how not reassured I was by this information.

How many IEP meetings are missed because a parent gets the notice 24 hours before the meeting date? How would the single person at the top of an enormous bureacracy begin to know the needs of a particular child?

Assemblywoman Glick's aide also told me that many parents desperately want to have IEPs that allow the use of aversives — that the NYSED is trying to satisfy parents on both sides of this issue.

My thought was that if you or I were to put a child in restraints, or use electroshock, or withhold food as disciplinary practices in our homes, it would be called what it is: child abuse. And social workers would come and remove the child from said home. But when these same measures are planned by state-funded school employees, they're called "behavioral intervention."

Okay, so I'm soapboxing.

But the use of "aversives" for kids with special needs is something that just seems so wrong, so nineteenth century, that I get a bit breathless about it.

I'm going to save my breath for the hearings on this matter, now set in Albany, New York City, and Syracuse:

Albany: Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Time: 3:00 pm – 7:00 PM
Location:Capital Region BOCES
Administrative Board Room
1031 Watervliet Shaker Road
Albany, New York 12205
Directions at:
Please note: you should enter the Administration Bldg by the entrance near the flagpole.

New York City: Monday, August 14, 2006
Time: 2:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Location:Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building
163 West 125th Street
2nd Floor Art Gallery
New York, New York 10027
Directions and subway information at:

Syracuse: Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Time: 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Location:Dr. King Elementary School
416 E. Raynor Avenue
Syracuse, New York 13202
Directions at:

Format of the public hearing

Preregistration is not required. However, if you require special accommodations such as a sign language interpreter, you must notify Carol Northrup by e-mail at or by telephone at 518-473-2878 no later than August 3, 2006.

NOTE: You must bring photo identification, obtain and wear a visitor badge and follow sign-in procedures, which may include a security scanning, as required at the door.

All individuals seeking to provide oral comment must so indicate upon registration at the site of the hearing. VESID requests, but does not require, that individuals wishing to make oral comments at the public hearing also provide comment in written format. Sites open 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. Individuals wishing to provide oral comment are encouraged to arrive early.

The rules of public hearings will be reviewed and a brief summary of the proposed regulations will be provided.

There is also a written comment period:

Written comment will be accepted until August 28, 2006 and should be directed to:

Dr. Rebecca H. Cort
Deputy Commissioner
Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities
Room 1606, One Commerce Plaza
Albany, New York 12234
Or by email:
Attention: Comments: Behavioral Intervention Regulations



Mom to Mr. Handsome said...

Creepy and scary.
To say the least.


kristina said...

Tough and terrible stuff-----especially when you hear about parents requesting such procedures.

Tara said...

State sanctioned and parent approved
child abuse. What next?

MothersVox said...

It's quite shocking, isn't it?

I will be in California when the Albany hearing is taking place, but I will make a point of heading up to Harlem for the New York City hearing on the 14th. I hope others in the area will also come.

Diamond said...

We just recently relocated from NYS to Iowa, but I will definitely be forwarding my comments forthwith. If anyone tried to use a single one of these measures on Noah, I would be the first one in line to reciprocate on them!!!!!

K.C.'sMommy said...

Really scary stuff!!

Dianne and Eric said...

You Know I live In Idaho have lived here for 6 yrs, and where i lived most my life was in Atl Ga. These things are banned in that state in any child care facility be it school or daycare, However i was appalled at the fact Idaho does allow these thing The school my daughter was ment to attend took me on a tour and showed me what they do to children who may have a sudden melt down, it was a tiny little closet with a dead bolt on the dorr " this is where children go when the refuse to settle and they can come out when they decided to calm down" ... first of all an autistic child, or Bi-Polar child can not knowingly chose to calm down....I refused to place my child there this is crule... and if i hyper child should mis behave send then to the carpet where they must stand perfectly still for 5 minutes... if they dont chose to do so they can stand there all day ... to me this again is leagal child abuse... if parents did this we would be under arrest , they are making it to where "the village" is raiseing our kids because apparently we dont know how! the govermemnt is screwing us!

herself said...

You all should be aware that from the first, Ivar Lovaas advocated aversives and they continue relentlessly (and covertly)in most ABA programmes that are done "right." Fortunately for some children who are subjected to ABA, their teachers soften the technique when supervisors are not looking.

I refused to allow this dehumanizing therapy for my son 15 years ago, when I was threatened that if I did not agree to this therapy, he would be uncontrollably dangerous by the age of eight, and I would fear for my life if I kept him in my home. (Wasn't that a bit of psychological abuse in itself?)

I percieve a philosophical dissonance to the use of ABA on people who have difficulty with reciprocal communication. Communicative intent of the child is rejected out of hand, the child is taught to do as told no matter what, and for a non-related reward. How does this help the child to communicate, except to either cower when spoken to, or follow the model and bully the conversational partner?

In Ireland, where I am now working as a speech therapist, ABA is the only programme for children diagnosed with spectrum disorders that is funded by the Health Service Executive without question. I find it very distressing, as I know my own son, who is now applying to top tier universities, would have become very emotionally disturbed if he has been subjected to that form of therapy. SO it is not just NY, and I suspect it has been going on all along, but they now want to formalize it with a stamp of approval.

Frogs' mom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Frogs' mom said...

Please give us a follow-up post after the meeting. I know there has been a lot of talk about this on the list-serve at COPAA (Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocatess). If the state lets this go into effect, I would expect to see a lot of legal challenges.

Rachel Grynberg said...

Unfortunately, I've met the kind of parents who would let aversives be used on their kids. When Bloomberg came into office, he often spoke against parents whom he said didn't realize how bad the schools/practices they defended were. You'd think his office would be against such a thing. Has anyone contacted Advocates for Children about this?

By the way, I'm an adult with A.S. currently working as a teacher, though I will be leaving the profession as soon as I can.

Anonymous said...


George Herbert Walker famously
Disliked broccoli rabe,
And he meandered aimlessly
Until he met his babe;
The lies he told, most shamelessly
Would shock old Honest Abe,
Yet their results, not blamelessly,
Extend to Abu Ghraib.

That prison's owner was Sadaam,
Our buddy in Iraq
Whom we supplied with gas and bomb
Until we changed our tack.
(By gas I mean, as for pogrom,
Nor we did not look back,
Nor he considered it haram,
When Shias he did attack.)

Invading so to occupy
His country, the US
Took over functions, low and high,
One might say, more or less:
No different the hotel Hanoi
Which France had used to press
Vietnamese, did they employ
To make GI's confess.

Such is the prison culture, these
Are built so to achieve
Certain results, not just to seize
Captives, you can believe:
Beyond the torture prison sees
Such deaths wardens nor grieve--
Keys bring responsibilities
Hard conscience to reprieve.

Catch-22 transfers the guilt
To whom would be the master;
When prisons have been sturdy built
Required is no forecaster
To point the end the means fulfilt,
For function is outlaster
Though owners change, though it be gilt
As gold-leaf covers plaster.

The place is seldom plenty fun
For such as are consigned
Captive to prison--gently run
Not likely: hate is blind.
Cruel guard, did he relent, he won
No favor for the grind,
While, where none honest went, he won
Promotion, praise assigned:
Should leasehold claim S-21
Could 22 be far behind?

Beneath Pol Pot e'en Camelot
Would turn into fiasco;
While any sot who likes it hot
May ask for some tobasco;
So with no plans or with, a man's
Inclined to sink like water
To lowest depths: Americans
Purchased cruelty and slaughter.