Parents Share Different View of the Judge Rotenberg Center
While some advocates oppose treatment and call for a boycott, parents are grateful for the center in Canton.
Editor's Note: This is the second article in a three-part series on the Judge Rotenberg Center. Please click here to read the first article. Log onto Canton Patch Wednesday to read the third installment.
Despite a radio boycott being brought by opponents, there are parents and supporters that credit the Judge Rotenberg Center as helping their children overcome obstacles. However, one advocate still opposes the aversive treatment used by the JRC.
George Deabold, who refers to himself as a national children’s rights and educational advocate, and is the founder of School Watch, said he opposes the Judge Rotenberg Center’s use of aversive therapy (shock therapy) in almost every instance, calling it “inhumane.”
The shock treatment at the Canton center could “save your life if a kid is dangerous or suicidal,” Deabold said. “But if your kids throwing a desk,” that is a different story.
According to Deabold, many of the children at the center come from low-income families who did not have all the options presented to them for treatment. He said that many of the children that are kicked out of school for bad behavior could be treated without aversive therapy.
“They never had a trained professional work with their child,” he said.
Deabold said he is actively involved in special education and children's rights. He said he has worked with students who have selective mutism, he advocates against child-abuse, advocates for the rights of special needs children and advocates for educational and children's issues across the country.
However, there are many supporters of the center, most are parents with children who have been at the JRC.
Matt Swenson, of Middletown, New York, has a child at the JRC. His 19-year-old daughter, Rachel Swenson, who turns 20 next month, has been at the facility since 2005.
After moving his daughter from center to center, he credits JRC with being the only facility to help his severely autistic child. Rachel is no longer injuring herself, throwing herself out of moving cars, (including once on the New Jersey Turnpike) throwing herself to the ground causing bruises, or trying to fracture her own eye socket, Swenson said.
“The controversy overshadows the fact that like most institutions, there is a lot of love for the residents there,” he said. “It’s not like this place is a Nazi house of horrors… those kids are loved there.”
In terms of the restrictions for the children at the JRC, “Matthew Israel (the founder) did that out of their own best interest,” Swenson said. “He wants to see those children succeed in society. He feels that even with learning disorders and behavior issues, residents can become contributing members of society.”
Swenson said he noticed that after Israel’s indictment and the media attention, the JRC became “very defensive.” But, that suspicion goes two ways, he noted.
“You don’t see much support in the press for the school… it makes the school suspicious of any publicity coming their way,” Swenson said.
The father, who tries to visit his daughter as often as possible, said the school “handles some of the most difficult students in the country and the state.”
He said he is grateful for the progress his child has made. She is now able to say several words and use them correctly including, “Dad, bye-bye.”
“Rachel’s staff is wonderful, some of the best staff I’ve had,” he said.
Another JRC parent, Marguerite Famolare of Boston, whose son received treatment at the center, testified in 2009 before a Massachusetts Legislative Hearing on a bill that would ban the use of aversives for behavioral treatment of children. (That bill has since come a step closer to passing.)
In the taped testimony, Famolare said, “…walk in our shoes for just a day. Tell us that we, who God has given the right and the privilege to nurture and make drastic decisions for these poor children, these young adults who cannot speak for themselves.”
After being placed in seven psychiatric units, being kicked out of several schools, trying several medications, “what brought him to JRC were the overdoses of medications he received.”
“The Commonwealth, the system itself, failed my son,” Famolare said. She called the JRC a “well-kept secret…It’s a last resort that we’re all not entitled to until all else fails.”
She spoke of her son being unable to speak, with the mind of a three-year-old, when he was 21 in 2009.
“I have been through hell, my family has been beaten by him... I’ve seen it all,” Famolare stated.
At one point, she got thrown down three flights of stairs, after her son took her crutches away from her (after already breaking her foot.)
The Boston mom credited the center with helping her son get off his medications and improve his behavior. She called Matthew Israel a “wonderful man.”
However, Deabold disagrees with the use of aversives. He said he asked the center to test the shock device that the children receive, but was not allowed to. (Other reporters have been allowed to test the device. But none were able to test the highest setting on the adjustable device.)
He also filed a 51A Complaint against the JRC with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and wants to get the center taken off the New York State list of approved schools.
Currently, there are 110 students from New York, with about 213 students total.
“New York keeps them alive,” he said.
“I’m not getting paid for this stuff,” Deabold said of his opposition to the JRC. “There’s nothing to lie about it. If that school was good, I’d be fighting to keep this open."