In The Politics of Autism, I write:Jennifer McKim, of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, at NPR:
For those who remain at larger residential institutions, the horrors of yesteryear have generally ended. In 2012, however, a ten-year-old video surfaced, showing disturbing image of an electric shock device at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton Massachusetts. Staffers tied one student to a restraint board and shocked him 31 times over seven hours, ignoring his screamed pleas to stop. The Rotenberg Center is the only one in the nation that admits to using electric shocks on people with developmental disabilities, including autism. Center officials said that they had stopped using restraint boards but insisted that shocks were necessary in extreme cases to prevent officials insist the shock program is a last resort that prevents people with severe disorders from hurting themselves or others. Though a majority of the FDA’s Neurological Devices Panel said that such devises pose “an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury,” the agency had not banned them as of 2014.
Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it plans to ban the controversial device, which administers the skin shocks to stop such behavior, by the end of this year. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a report last fall that the apparatus developed by the Rotenberg center presents "an unreasonable and substantial risk to public health." Potential risks include burns to the skin, anxiety, fear and pain, federal records show.
Executive Director Glenda Crookes says the school and its supporters would litigate to protect its rights to treat residents with the apparatus it developed and has used for nearly three decades. The center has prevailed against other efforts to stop it — most recently in June when a local judge ruled in its favor.
The school phased out most other practices and now relies mostly on the shock device known as a graduated electronic decelerator. Currently, 48 adult students are court-approved to wear the backpacks, according to Crookes. The numbers of students with backpacks has dropped since 2011 after the state passed regulations to prohibit new residents from being considered for the shocks.
The FDA first proposed the ban on the device in 2016 and requested public comments. Frustrated by delays, activists last year staged protests in front of the school in Canton, Mass., and outside the Indianapolis home of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
In December, an international human rights group connected to the Washington, D.C.-based Organization of American States urged the United States to immediately stop the practice. The school also is facing several civil lawsuits from former residents alleging mistreatment.