CW: JRC, violence, deathAbout a week ago, at Carlton Palms, a for-profit facility for developmentally disabled people in Florida run by Bellwether Behavioral Health (formerly Advoserv), 26-year-old William James Lamson died, reportedly after head-banging.
Mr. Lamson’s story is the kind that fuels support for the contingent electric shock and other practices at the Judge Rotenberg Center that amount to torture — the argument is that one does desperate things when lives are at stake — so I think it is important that those of us who oppose the practice be prepared to discuss it.
There are two things to keep in mind here.
One is that significant aversives like the Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) don’t actually work. At best they suppress behavior while you continue to employ them — which is why some people never leave JRC — and they don’t even always do that, as is demonstrated by JRC’s repeated modification of its devices to increase the amperage and thus the pain.
JRC claims it has peer-reviewed research supporting efficacy, but this is not true. Behaviorists in general repudiate their practices. Nancy Weiss at The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities speaks eloquently and authoritatively to this; we should be referring the media there.
The other is that there are things that do work to address severe self-injury and other-directed violence that are manifestations of disability. The problem is that our society does not reliably provide them, especially to the kinds of highly devalued people who end up at places like JRC and Carlton Palms.
(I don’t know the demographic makeup of Carlton Palms but JRC is full of black and brown people.)What works when the imposition of force does not tends, from what I know, to be some combination of* not putting people into situations in which they cannot cope* backing off as much as possible, to give people a chance to calm down.
Much of what is considered “part of the problem” is actually a response to misguided efforts to help* harm reduction, to prevent people from hurting themselves while efforts to help are underway* support designed to give people as much self-determination as possible* teaching alternate and equally or more effective ways to achieve anything that SIBbing and violence may achieve* a recognition that many people have experienced significant trauma and appropriate responses* counseling and psychotropic medication if the person finds them helpful&c.
It is individual, and it is admittedly labor-intensive. And it is a worth doing. Providing disabled people with the supports necessary to live lives we value is worth doing.There are people who know this stuff much better than I do. My friends Emma Van der Klift and Norm Kunc at Broadreach Training are two of them; there are people who know it better than they because this is what they do.
But I have both been that person about whom there was real concern about burst eardrums, detached retinas, skull fractures and brain bleeds (I never injured myself to that point) and someone who has supported others who engaged in that level of self-injury and who routinely were at risk of harming others.
I still SIB, and I still stim in ways that are easily misinterpreted as dangerous.
There is no major risk to myself and none to anyone else unless they get physical with me and the situation escalates. B