Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Quackery

“Aversive” therapy for autism and developmental disorders?

Ever since I started paying attention to quackery, in particular quackery used on autistic children, I’ve come across some bizarre articles. Of course, the vast majority of autism quackery is related to antivaccine beliefs and the need to “detoxify” autistic children from whatever toxins or mercury antivaccinationists think caused their children’s autism. If only it stopped at that, though. In any case, I don’t remember exactly where I came across this article, particularly given that it’s an English language article published on a website called The Nanfang Insider, which bills itself as reporting on “urban life in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Dongguan. I have no idea how accurate its reporting is, and the English used for the article is at times a bit shaky, but the article, CHONGQING DOCTOR CLAIMS CHILD ABUSE CAN CURE CHILDREN OF AUTISM. The article is bizarre in the extreme, and very disturbing.

I’ll show you what I mean:

The prevailing view is that autism is incurable, but a 36 year-old Sichuan native named He Xiaoyan claims she can do it, reports the Chongqing Commercial Report.

He operates the Leyi Amalgamated Kindergarten in Geleshan County. Throughout the past ten years, the school has taken in 960 children, some of which are autistic. He says she has “cured” ten of them.

He uses forceful and violent methods to treat these children using what she calls “hate therapy”. She uses a simple idiom to describe the treatment: ”If violence is used by the child, then violence will be returned on the child.”

What does this mean? Unfortunately, it means exactly what it sounds as though it means. There follow six examples of what this means:

  1. Four year-old Xiaoxiao was prone to biting, both herself and other people including students and teachers. To remedy this, teachers first tried slapping Xiaoxiao’s hand. When that didn’t work, He purposely provoked Xiaoxiao in order to incite her to bite. When Xiaoxiao bit someone, she was bit herself, sometimes even by He. Xiaoxiao was told, “Whether you bite yourself or others, it will hurt.” Half a year later, Xiaoxiao stopped biting people.
  2. Five year-old Tongtong was prone to falling on the floor whenever he was angry, thereby hitting his head and causing it to bleed. To treat Tongtong, He wrapped up Tongtong’s head in protective material and allowed him to repeatedly fall on the ground. This way, He allowed Tongtong to hurt himself, but not harm himself. Also, because Tongtong was afraid of heights, He suspended him from a tree a meter off the ground as part of his therapy. After screaming for three minutes, Tongtong was let down. A month later, Tongtong’s behavior changed.
  3. Six year-old Feifei was prone to running into walls. If there was no one to prevent him from doing so, Feifei continues to run into walls until he was bloody. He treated this case by provoking the child to run into a wall in the presence of a parent. He then took the child’s head, and rammed it into the wall with the parent watching. Next, He asked for the parent to comply, but they refused, causing the parent to further cry in front of the child. After two months, Feifei’s behavior changed.
  4. Six year-old Liangliang loved playing with water to the extent that he would get his entire body wet. He took Liangliang to a pool where he immediately jumped in. As part of his therapy, He took Liangliang by the head, went to the deepest part of the water, and held his nose and mouth underwater for an extended period of time, twice. Later, if Liangliang was seen playing with water at the kindergarten, he was pelted with water from head to toe. A year later, Liangliang changed his ways.
  5. Five year-old Shuaishuai was prone to throwing things around. At first, striking Shuaishuai’s hand with a chopstick proved to be useless. Then, He devised a treatment: Shuaishuai was given a ball and allowed to to throw around. Later, when Shuaishuai reached out for the ball, He hit his hand. Shuaishuai then changed his behavior so that he only threw objects when no one was watching. At this point, He would hide and jump out whenever Shuaihshuai was about to throw anything. Six months later, Shuaishuai stopped throwing things altogether

This is nothing less than child torture. Look at how long each case went on before there was a “cure, periods of time ranging from a month to a year. For example, it took six months of He biting Xiaoxiao after provoking her to bite. It took a month of Tongtong hitting her head on the floor whenever he was angry before he stopped. Perhaps the most disturbing case of all is that of six year old Liangliang, whose only “crime” (or behavior problem) was that he loved to play with water. So what did this quack do with this poor child? He held his face underwater twice and, if he was seen playing with water, pelted him with hit head to toe. It took a year for the child to “change his ways.”

On second thought, the story of six year old Feifei is even worse. Think about it. To stop him from running into walls until he got bloody, He provoked the poor kid into running into the wall and then rammed his head into the wall with the parent watching. Apparently he did it so hard that the parent cried, and apparently he did this for two months before the child stopped running into the wall.

This quack, He Xiaoyan, is described in the story as having graduated from someplace called Serious Medical Clinical Pediatrics, whatever that means, wherever that came from, and her chamber of horrors is the Leyi Amalgamated Kindergarten in Geleshan County. The original source I encountered refrenced an original news story in Chinese describing these “treatments” further. Although obviously I can’t read Chinese, Google Translate does a good enough job to let one get the gist of the story, with even more disturbing examples. For instance, there is a mention of a boy being outside in 40° C (104° F) and hung from a tree by the waste until his crying persuaded the teachers to let him down. Why was this done? The boy was afraid of heights.


There are other examples, including a photo of a woman yelling at autistic children and of staff force-feeding a child.

Basically what’s going on here is “aversion therapy,” in which a therapist tries to decrease the frequency of a behavior by making that behavior unpleasant. It’s a dubious sort of treatment that has little rigorous scientific evidence to support it but has nonetheless been used for drug addiction, bad habits, smoking, and various other purposes. Not only is it not strongly evidence-based, but it’s considered unethical to use on children, even more so on children with developmental disorders like autism. Indeed, as has been noted, parents and other advocates for the developmentally disabled have been particularly vocal in their condemnation of behavior therapy that uses aversive procedures in general—and with good reason.

Apparently what’s going on at this Chinese clinic is just that. Moreover, even if one accepts the claims of He Xiaoyan, it doesn’t work. In the Chinese language article she stated that she has treated 960 children, “some of whom” are autistic, and “cured” 10 of them, whatever that means. Not a very good track record for such a nasty therapy, and it’s not evidence of “curing” autism given that it’s not even mentioned how many children in the school are autistic, how many have other developmental disorders, or how many just have behavioral issues. Whatever the case, it’s sad to see quackery such as this, no matter where it is.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

99 replies on ““Aversive” therapy for autism and developmental disorders?”

When I first saw the name of the article, I thought it was a bloody joke. The more I read the more I got incensed.

What is wrong with these people that made them think that autistic people are diseased, and now not even human? What could possibly condone these actions of outright torture. “Curing” a child in this way will likely give them phobias of authority figures, break their spirits and crush their individuality.

Heck, slamming a child’s head into a wall seems like a good way to make them retarded or give them brain damage. If we won’t even condone this for POWs, why on earth would they do this to children?

If 10 out of 960 children are ‘cured’, it doesn’t sound like a great track-record.
And I can’t say I consider it a cure at all. Indeed, it’s child-abuse and nothing less.
I’m glad my parents never did such things to me.

Sorry, mine was too rushed and too angry, I’m sure POWs are treated worse, but it’s still torture.

I’ve been shocked, appalled, and have downright laughed at some of the nonsense people say has been successful at “curing” autism.

This is the first time I’ve actually felt physically nauseated and had to stop reading for a moment.

I felt already physically nauseated when I read about treating autism with MMS.
I wonder what ‘treatment’ they will come up next.

Translation of interview. {}contains personal comments
J [Journalist]: While using these “violent” teaching methods, have the parents complained?
H [He Xiaoyan] (smiling): Before I implement the methods, I phone the parents for consent, only when consented do I do so.
J: Will doing this hurt the child? {Like this needs to be asked?}
H: Their autism hasn’t been effectively treated by medicine. I practice medicine, and am also a 2nd level national psychological counselor {take with a pinch of salt, translation of this is sketchy.}, implementing special teaching measures is a principle that must be mastered, “hate therapy” happens to combine medical knowledge and psychological knowledge {imagine psycho docs.Total BS}, allowing precise, constructive usage.
J: While “performing violence”, when you hear a child’s cries, how do you feel?
H: It seems so cruel, but it’s for the greater good. {seeing a pattern yet?}
J: How do you react to protests?
H: I only commit when I have consent. They are my motivating strength. {blame pusher.} I feel that doing this will not only save the child, but the family and even the clan.

That 960 children have been abused like this is awful.

Near the end of the article, one government official (Mei Qixia, Deputy director of the Chongqing Pediatric Growth and Development) weighs in as supporting this “school” and a psychologist (Dr Zhang Zhongming, Secretary-General of the Psychological Teaching and Work Committee of the National Psychological Association) comes out against this “therapy”.

But nowhere in this article (and even after that headline, which may have lost something in translation) is there even the slightest hint that someone, somewhere in Chongqing wants to intervene to stop this school. FYI, per Wikipedia, Chongqing is one of China’s largest inland cities with a city population of 6-7 million and metropolitan census of 28 million–so this isn’t some podunk town out in the middle of nowhere (though it is ~ 1,000 miles inland from Shanghai)

What is the definition of “cured” used here. I mean if you are so abused you become catatonic I suppose the unwanted behavior stops. But I wouldn’t call that cured.

Any idea of how many other places are abusing kids into submission?

@ Jopari / Chris Hickie

nowhere in this article is there even the slightest hint that someone, somewhere in Chongqing wants to intervene to stop this school.

*sarcasm/devil’s advocate mode*
Why should anyone complain? The children are now behaving “better”.
If you define “better” as “no longer disgracing themselves and their family in public”.
For a lot of people and cultures, your public face is more important that whatever is going on inside. You have to behave according to the mores, even if it breaks you.
To quote the chief torturer good doctor (emphasis mine):

I feel that doing this will not only save the child, but the family and even the clan.

I rest my case.

The children are not “cured”, just turned into introversion.
Heck, it was how we “treated” mad people before the 20th century, if Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” is anything related to reality.


Please don’t base your opinion of China, quite a lot of land, using a single incident, this is likely an isolated incident.

Actually, the translation of it into English as the first link is not bad, but it does leave out subtle nuances of the journalist against He. Quite honestly, culture in China was decimated by Mao, and I wouldn’t put it beyond the parents to misinterpret old moral values.

I think Helianthus is on to something here. Chinese society places a high value on conformity, which makes it that much harder for autistic children and their parents. The parents are looking for some way–any way–to get their children to act within the limits of what’s considered normal.

However, I suspect that the children’s names in the article are pseudonyms. All six have names consisting of repeated syllables. While there are some Chinese who have such names (I happen to know someone with the given name Feifei), it’s not common, at least among the Chinese people I know. I don’t know whether Dr. He is actually following medical ethics in this regard, or somebody somewhere in the chain that produced that report is changing names to protect the innocent, but I would be surprised if all of the children in question really had those names.

And I agree with Renate that a cure rate of about 1% is a poor showing indeed. So Dr. He doesn’t even have the excuse that her method “works”.


I was more wondering how many places in the USA or other countries use aversion therapy, not how widespread this is in China.

I suspect this isn’t unique to this one school in China.

High functioning autist here (my son too). It didn’t work when my mother used to beat me to make me behave – this was late 50’s and early sixties – but it certainly poisoned any relationship I had with her for the rest of her life.

I agree with Eric.
China isn’t particularly well known and admired for its record on human rights as well.

And KayMarie, you’re correct this is not unknown in the so-called West. One of the few decent things AoA has done involved discussing the use of aversive therapy on the East Coast of the US and advocating against it.

Let’s not get too high and mighty about how awful the Chinese are because of this. Aversive therapy has been practiced in the West and in the United States and, what’s more, it still is.

We’ve all heard about the notorious electric shock case out east, which also involved political graft, as a judge was receiving kickbacks to send kids into this torturous system with heavy use of electric shocks as an aversive training tool. But that really only got shut down because of the graft part. There was a crooked judge sending kids there. What still goes on is the residential programs that parents voluntarily send their kids to — and which they may or may not fully understand, since the programs actively seek to prevent parents understanding the severity of punishments that may be meted out. They present themselves as summer camps for children with behavioral problems, but their strategies are similar to — and perhaps worse than — what is described at this horrible “clinic” in China. They’ve had deaths at these summer camps, and they still don’t get shut down. They operate on legal fringes where it is difficult to properly regulate, and they shield themselves with parental consent, just as this Chinese practitioner does. And they pick and choose students to provide positive anecdotes so that folks think it’s effective. But it’s not. There aren’t statistics, of course, since the camps not only fail to test their students but actively seek to avoid the sort of bookkeeping that would allow someone to tell if they’re effective. Which, of course, is completely intentional, because it’s principally a moneymaking scheme. They even make kids and parents sign NDAs before they can leave.

I’m not sure if they’re as systematic as this one is, tailoring aversions to achieve a desired behavioral change. They tend to be extremely crude, since the people running them really have no idea what they’re doing. Their methods tend to evoke North Korean prison camps more than aversive psychobabble. It’s really quite disturbing, and yes, it does go on. Today. Right this very moment, there are kids with issues who are going untreated and instead being beaten to within an inch of their lives. And the perpetrators will, in all likelihood, never suffer for it. The parents have given consent. They aren’t licensed medical practitioners so there is no license to revoke. They operate in states with no mandatory standards for residential camps. And if their methods are systematic about anything, it’s about conditioning them not to rat them out to their parents or the authorities — just like other types of abusers, really.

@ Lancelot**:

I’m sorry to hear about your experience.

I suspect that you’re not alone even amongst people who are currently still young and living at home. I wonder how much a parent’s attitude about what autism entails affects how they treat their children.

And OBVIOUSLY ‘mistreatment’ by parents is not only physical.

** I never thought I’d ever address a ‘lancelot’.

BTW, I’m not trying to imply anyone here is getting high and mighty, and I just realized that’s how my first paragraph sounds. Sorry about that. I just want to caution anyone reading this generally to not come away with the idea that oh, that’s horrible, awful, those dreadful Chinese, it’s a good thing we don’t have to worry about that here. Because in fact we DO have to worry about it here. This is a valuable story to share, so people understand what horrors can be justified in the name of “curing autism”.

@ Jopari,

Thanks for your comments. I don’t think any of the commenters so far think this behavior is typical of Chinese people in general. What really makes me mad is the combination of how brutal it is and the fact that it is presented as “treatment”.

Unfortunately, as others have noticed, misguided treatments like this happen in many places including the US.

There are ‘treatment centres’ for adolescents in the USA, that require their inmates to wear tasers that are permanently attached through their clothing. The children are routinely tased by remote control for the slightest infraction. This was exposed in an article in Mother Jones magazine a few years ago.

There are also religion-based ‘boot camps’ and the like, in Utah USA and in Jamaica, where religious-right parents send their ‘unruly teenagers,’ and where brutal beatings are common. The ones in Jamaica were set up there specifically to circumvent American regulations pertaining to child care. The horrors cannot be overstated.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the cure for places of that sort is a quantity of dynamite followed by a bulldozer, and lengthy sentences for the owners and staff. The penalty for systematic child abuse, including child abuse for profit, should be the same as for child molestation, up to and including life sentences with no possibility for release.

As for China, its economy has grown so rapidly that its regulatory apparatus has not been able to keep up. Yet when violators are found, for example adulterating foods, they are dealt with harshly, including by death sentences. I’m inclined to believe that it is only a matter of time until a robust regulatory system is in place to put a stop to unethical business practices such as aversive ‘therapy.’

Jopari, I don’t hold this instance against China any more than I hold the American instances against America. In both places they are aberrations, not the rule. Some day, people from all continents will stand together on Mars, in reflection of our common ground and shared future.

Changing behaviors has nothing to do with curing anything. That is like saying I cured autism with time outs.

Reminds me of the South Park episode where all the kids are on Ritalin. Only . . . this isn’t funny.

Absofuckinglutely outrageous, a crime against humanity. Aversion therapy is generally not recommended for anyone, not just children, and violence is certainly not recommended in any case.
I don’t generally advocate violent solutions to crime, which is what this is, but someone ought to try a little aversion therapy on this character: Every time she is caught abusing an autistic child, she should be struck with a hammer. I’ll bet she’d change her behavior within one minute. In fact, I’m surprised that a parent hasn’t treated her antisocial behavior that way already.

As a learning theorist, I can say that neither the China-based abomination nor the US-based outfits using “aversive therapy” follow the general principles of learning for effective behavior change. Furthermore, such advances have been made in in assessing and treating problem behavior such that most severe challenging behavior can be changed without using aversive stimulation.


Exactly, behavior change does not change who the person is and what the do and do not like. Their preferences, however, are very important in developing effective treatment.

One thing I suppose we all agree on, Aversive Therapy isn’t condusive.

Though I would hesitate to say that the cane is wrong, it shouldn’t be the priimary mode of instruction. In fact, when my father used the cane, I learned that this behaviour wasn’t tolerated, but he always explained to me and he didn’t use it for minor infractions.

What I really meant was that it’s unlikely a majority of people believe this. Shock therapy is inhumane and unpredictable. It could manifest a hatred or cause irrational fears and a cowed personality.

I think the real problem is how autism is being treated as a disease instead of an abberation in behaviour, that is, off the beaten track. The quacks cause the parents to instead of try to understand the child, put him/her down as diseased or infected, it’s not a problem of the body, rather the mind.

Come to think of it, it might not even be a problem, just something different.

2007 report:

In France, autistic children who have psychiatric problems routinely undergo a treatment that has never been tested in a clinical trial and that many parents regard as cruel. Psychiatrists who use the technique claim that it produces positive results, but critics argue that it shows just how far France has fallen out of step with the international medical community in its understanding of the condition.

The therapy, called packing, involves wrapping a child tightly in wet sheets that have been placed in the refrigerator for up to an hour. When children are encased in this damp cocoon—with only their head left free—psychiatrically trained staff talk to them about their feelings. Typically, the treatment is repeated several times a week, and depending on the results and the severity of the child’s condition, it can continue for months or even years.

I can’t read this. I know I need to and will eventually, but I can’t read this.

Note the claim–they’ve “recovered” kids. Cured them. For all those who claim that any charlatan who uses anecdotes of recovery to back up their claims of “cure”, read this.

Someone needs to beat on this “practitioner” each time he/she does this to disabled kids.

I suspect in sort order, he/she will be taught to avoid this bad behavior.

The documentary film maker Sophie Robert made a film exposing “le packing”, called Le Mur – Autistes sans frontières (The Wall-Autistics without Borders). In it, she interviewed twenty-seven psychoanalysts. Three of them later sued Robert, saying that the film misrepresented their views. The French court ordered the film removed from distribution in any way.

Robert countersued. In January 2014, the Court of Appeal of Douai agreed with Sophie Robert and Autistes Sans Frontières against the censors In their judgment judges reaffirmed that the interviewees agreed to be filmed and that the final cut is beyond their control.

However, I believe le packing is still the order of the day in France.

@ Science Mom:

Oh I know. AoA is like the proverbial stopped clock- right once or twice and otherwise wrong.

While smaller than it was before the Great NotDepression, the business of residential treatment for “troubled teens” is still going strongly. Lurker isn’t quite right — it isn’t just “religious-right parents” — it is parents of all philosphical stripes. The Troubled Teen industry is one slick marketing machine, promoting residential “treatment” such as that described below.

Since they didn’t have any standards to abide by, our counselors were free to go with whatever “treatment” sounded like it might work. Once they took all the girls who had eating disorders and made them eat dinner in front of the boys without using their hands or any utensils. They would make kids role-play characters from memories of rape and abuse, forcing them to relive childhood horrors. Complaining got you put on work assignments, or lost you the privilege of a five-minute phone call home. I’ll remind you that this was billed as a treatment facility, not a prison or a punishment.

They tailored their abuse to exactly what kind of child you were. My father left me when I was little. The counselors asked if I thought he left me because I was inadequate, if I believed he thought I was unintelligent, ugly, or fat. None of those things had ever occurred to me before, but having them shouted at me in a therapy room full of other kids really turned me around on the whole “not being terribly depressed” thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a healthy kid when you walk in there — spend a few hours deprived of sleep, food, and the ability to use the restroom while adults call you fat. You’ll walk out with a condition.

Maia Szalavitz wrote an excellent book on the industry in “Help at Any Cost”. I recommend it for those interested in this aspect of American parenting.

It still begs the question though, what’s with the xenophobia so chronic it causes them to regard it as an illness and use all these extreme measures?

I’ve got friends with some severely autistic kids. Hard to say that someone with those problems is just a little different and there is no reason to do anything about their quirks.

But I will say seems that some of the “just a bit odd” kids from when I grew up would probably be on the spectrum with the way things are currently diagnosed and they did OK without much in the way of interventions.

I’m not sure how much of the extreme measures are for the kids who are just a tad odd vs those who are unlikely to ever be able to function without a full time care taker of one sort or another.

@ Llz Ditz

France isn’t looking so good either

When I wrote my little post #11, my inspiration came in part from my subjective view of Chinese culture through movies, news, and talking to Chinese friends.
and in part from experience much closer to home.
I was not beaten, but the worst thing I could to my parents was to misbehave in public.

A lot of my compatriots – especially those slightly older than me – still believe in tough love when it comes to educate kids. Many Frenchmen are bewildered that spanking is outlawed in some parts of the world.
On the other hand, beating your kids or subjecting them to the sort of abuse described in today’s post would be too far for my fellow countryfolks. I hope.

@LIz Ditz
I heard about that film on another blog but have not seen it. Several everal people who had studied psychiatry or psychology in France also pointed out that French clincial psych or psychiatry is almost totally Freudian.!

@KayMarie, severely autistic kids have just as much right to be free from torture as anyone else. Kids that you describe as “unlikely to ever be able to function without a full time care taker of one sort or another” are extremely vulnerable and need more protection from harm, not less. The use of extreme aversives in autism ABA has lost a lot of traction in recent years, but it is still practiced, and there are still behavior analysts who advocate for its use — notably the expert witnesses who support the Judge Rotenberg Center in its litigation. At JRC they use aversives on kids of all so-called functioning levels, I suppose on the theory that the judicious application of pain and hunger can modify anybody’s behavior.

I’m guessing the “cure” is going to lead to some monster anger management issues down the road. Is that plausible?

@ Anne

I never meant to imply anyone ever be tortured for anything for any reason (or that some people do not deserve protection). I was responding to the post above mine where it sounded like they wondered why someone would be so xenophobic of anyone not neuro-normative that they would be desperate enough to seek treatment.

Sounded like they might be implying no one who is on the spectrum should ever be considered ill or disabled. It is just prejudice to say they have a disorder, there is no reason for calling autism an illness other than our fear of anyone who doesn’t fit a specific definition of normal.

My sense is these days because of the increase in the spectrum a lot of people think autistic means oh they are just acting a little shy, don’t quite get pop culture references, and hate tags on their clothes. I certainly think we need to be more accepting of people who are just a bit out of normal, but to imply autism cannot be devastating just seems wrong to me. How do you protect people if you do not even consider they may be more vulnerable than most of us so may need even more protection from harm?

However, I know some autistic kids are nowhere near normal and need compassionate and effective treatments, not just be accepted for who they really are. I dunno if any of the parents I know who need several respite weekends a year to recover from the day to day grind of caring for a severely autistic kid would like being told they are just xenophobic and they need to get over their fear of those who are different.

To do this to children is just sickening. I am not a fan of corporal punishment I was spanked as a child (sometimes severely) and I can’t condone the practice. It was somewhat effective in modifying some behavior (sometimes) but also made me afraid of the caregiver meting out the punishment. Long term I don’t think its effective at all. Yes, you can affect short term behavior change, but long term it’s all harmful. I wouldn’t stand for this treatment of an animal (and if you watch any TV you know animal mistreatment is very common) I would never condone it for a child. For someone up thread who was talking about the behavior, yes, if children are self harming you should seek to stop the behavior but not by inflicting still more harm.

Lurker: In my not-so-humble opinion, the cure for places of that sort is a quantity of dynamite followed by a bulldozer, and lengthy sentences for the owners and staff.

Why only penalize the owners and staff? Most of the parents who send their kids to those kinds of places know exactly what’s going on and don’t have a problem with it. At the very least, there should be family counseling, if not immediate emancipation for the kid (and their siblings) who got sent to the Jesus camp. I can name maybe one woman who honestly didn’t know what was going on, but I still hold her responsible for not doing due diligence. (And, you know, not taking a minute to think that the last thing a victim of sexual assault needs is to be sent away from home and told it’s all her fault- I’m honestly surprised the daughter still speaks to her mother.)

Jopari: It still begs the question though, what’s with the xenophobia so chronic it causes them to regard it as an illness and use all these extreme measures?

It’s simple, really- perfectionism. Most parents of autistic children who become curebies are high-flying, career people who expect their offspring to be perfect and can’t accept any substituitions.
China still basically has a two-child policy, and parents are going to get upset as heck if they’re only allowed one child, and the kid isn’t what the hoped for. They don’t usually keep the child, and if they do, they figure extreme measures are their only chance. Also, parents there are much more susceptible to family pressure- even if they don’t like the idea, if Grandma or Grandpa does, they have to submit and do what the elders say.

I think the real problem is how autism is being treated as a disease instead of an abberation in behaviour, that is, off the beaten track. The quacks cause the parents to instead of try to understand the child, put him/her down as diseased or infected, it’s not a problem of the body, rather the mind.

This isn’t so hard to understand. Problems of the mind are systematically ignored or not treated because they’re a lot more intractable than problems of the body. If someone’s looking to make a quick buck, relocating the problem area (to say, the gut) makes the problem more concrete and ‘easier’ to ‘solve.’

Despite all the legal claims and bad publicity, Massachuset’s Judge Rotenberg Center appears to be still using electric shock aversion therapy.

Yep. I did a page search for “Rotenberg” as soon as I finished reading the post.

They’re just as bad.

(As it says at the link: “Trigger Warning: Extremely detailed description of abuse and torture of a disabled person.” But it’s actually one of the least distressing things I’ve ever read about that place.

There’s a Judge Rotenberg Center Abuses Blog, too.)

Their reps troll for special ed students in city schools here in NYC from time to time.


That kind of treatment doesn’t just get visited on the autistic, though.

I mean, if someone is unhappy with his or her child for any reason, there’s always a behavior-mod/teen-boot-camp/tough-love joint or several in Utah (or wherever they primarily are nowadays) that’ll be happy to take them.

And those places are similarly aversive-oriented.

I cannot tell you how many well-educated people, mostly other parents, tried to get me to send my youngest behavior-challenged (bipolar) child to one of those “camps”. He still has problems at 27, but at least abuse and torture memories are not among them.

However, I did bite (not very hard, just enough to show that it isn’t pleasant) all four of my children the first time any of them bit a sibling or playmate. Only one ever did it again and after the third time I tried other things, like time-out. He did stop!

It’s too bad Gerg isn’t around to offer his “professional” opinion.

As a high-functioning autistic, this offends me no end. Eye-for-an-eye violence on anyone – especially autistic people – will only lead to escalation of the situation and eventual disaster. It won’t be long until someone gets killed.


They are under court order to not implement new shock therapy programs. They are not picking up new cases as they used to but they have such a powerful parent/legislative group of supporters that they have been able to stay in business.

^^Step in the right direction.

Also, in April an FDA advisory panel recommended banning the shock devices they use, apparently.

I’m not sure what that means, though. This sentence…

An FDA spokesperson said the FDA “will consider all available information, including the advisory committee’s input, when considering any future regulatory action.”

…from this article here doesn’t exactly inspire hope.

I really can’t think of any circumstance or situation in which it would be okay to condition the behavior of a non-verbal autistic child or adult by giving them painful electric shocks. Aversives of some kind, maybe, as a last resort when lives are on the line. But even then only “maybe,” and excluding shocks.

It’s a blight and shame on the nation, world and humanity, imo, that place.

The most popular aversive therapy in the USA for the last four decades has been the very quacky Attachment Therapy/Parenting (aka Holding Therapy, Rage Reduction, Rebirthing, etc.). Attachment Therapy has been linked to numerous high profile criminal child abuse and death cases; it is mainly used on foster and adopted children.

Attachment Therapy uses hours of coercive restraint, plus threats, knuckling the sternum, poking, suffocation, and assorted other aversives to intentionally terrorize a child, or in their terms, “revisit early abuse” so that developmental stages can be “redone.” In the case of suspected sexual abuse, the therapist may lay on top of the child and lick his face.

To round out the torture 24/7, the parenting methods are based on isolation, bare bedrooms, humiliation, manipulation with food, excessive exercises/chores, hours of motionless sitting, forced age regression, etc.

What has been especially maddening about this practice is that it has long been promoted and funded by state and local government child protection services and adoption agencies.

Here are clips from the media and training tapes showing what Attachment Therapy is like:

Note that a couple of the clips are about Martha Welch, MD, a member of Columbia U’s faculty. She claimed to cure autism with Holding Therapy. (Front cover of Life magazine.) Nobel prize winner Niko Tinbergen (mentor of Richard Dawkins) was a great admirer of Welch and also promoted Holding Therapy for autism. Welch’s methods are still used in the USA, Europe and Latin America.

Rebirthing/attachment therapy.

Hmph. I associate “rebirthing” directly with LSD psychotherapy, well predating Leonard Orr.

It might be evidenced in here somwhere (“Ralph? Ralph!”), but I don’t know that I have the patience for it at the moment.

No time to check, but IIRC rebirthing was developed by Stanislav Grof as a substitute for LSD when it became unavailable (legally) to researchers. Rebirthing involves hyperventilating until an altered state of consciousness is induced. I have often wondered what the physiology of that is. Respiratory alkalosis? Hyperoxemia?


Qualified upfront by the frank admission that I know too.little about the subject to vouch for the reliability of my associations:

My guess would be that the vogue for pseudoscientific rebirthing rituals probably originated as part of the whole getting-Nietzsche-wrong/crypto-millennialist cooptation of (ostensibly) Eastern philosophy that people who didn’t yet know they were proto-fascists tended to find so very unfortunately compelling in the c. 1860-through-interwar period of western thought.***

(I’m thinking of Roger Griffin’s theory of fascism, which — as wiki sayeth — “suggests that a heuristically useful ideal type of its definitional core is that it is a form of palingenetic ultranationalism.”

And also of the first line of “Sway,” by the Rolling Stones. Because it’s evidence of the renewed market for cheap ‘n’ easy eternal-recurrence/rebirth-themed thought in the early ’70s.from which I speculate that Grof et al evolved. In my ignorance.

I think it’s time for me to go watch “The Rhythm of Life” again.

More my speed.
***Try to make sense of that. I dare you. Because it’s nigh-on incomprehensible to me, and I wrote it.

Ann- I had never actually heard the original of that. I had heard an altered version for a Christian choir (“leave your common-law wife” became “leave your troubles and strife”).

Rebirthing and “le packing” are both horrible, and I seem to recall reading that the latter partially inspired the former.

PGP: “I think the real problem is how autism is being treated as a disease instead of an abberation in behaviour, that is, off the beaten track. ”

I know exactly what you mean, but I have mixed feelings on that. On the one hand, calling it a disease leads directly to the notion of “cure” and all the damaging things that can go with that, up to and including eugenics. (It’s definitely been said. Check out comment threads on news articles about autism; there’s usually at least one or two voices calling for a prenatal test so such children can be aborted. It’s quite disturbing.)

On the other hand, treating it as just an aberration in behavior can lead to another problem: the notion that there’s nothing wrong with these kids that some physical punishment can’t solve. In some of the anecdotes that came out of abusive residential camps in the US, you can hear it in the employee’s stories — they don’t see it as a disease but as a behavior that needs correction, and since it’s not responding to correction, that must mean the kid’s doing it on purpose to defy and annoy you. So they beat the kid even harder.

Unfortunately, I don’t think language can save us from abusive responses to children whose brains work differently. We can’t win. If we call it a disease, they either write the kids off as “damaged” or throw everything into a hopeless attempt at cure. If we call it behavior, they figure that means the kid should be able to just stop doing it, so if they don’t that means it’s on purpose and needs punishment.

Maybe the underlying truth there is that some people are just looking for an excuse. 🙁 And some people are so desperate for help that they’ll try anything, from practitioners who regard it as a disease or who regard it as defiance.

CA: Um, that line wasn’t mine it was Jopali’s. I was just adding my own thoughts to it- that’s the paragraph below. The perils of cut and paste.

CA: Maybe the underlying truth there is that some people are just looking for an excuse. 🙁 And some people are so desperate for help that they’ll try anything, from practitioners who regard it as a disease or who regard it as defiance.

Yes, this matches my own observations. Most parents of the Age of Autism mindset direly need a scapegoat. Like I said above, they’re perfectionists, and in some cases (lilady’s bete noire for instance) they’re just plain unstable.

@ Cali and PGP:

This is how I look at it:
psychological conditions involve how a person thinks and behaves that depart from the average -usually- in intensity or frequency and how related it is to the environment. How situationally determined is it? Is it present across all situations or just a few?

Everyone can feel nervous but at what point does this become Anxiety ( or GAD)? Similary, all people may feel depressed at times when is it _Depression_? Or does an emotion like fear relate to what is actually occuring externally ( the person is in a war zone) or is it entirely internally determined unrealistically ( fear of malevolent space spirits)?

One of the idiots I survey says psychologists “pathologise everyday life” when they label kids as ADHD or ASD because all kids act or think that way sometimes ( similarly, people with depression or anxiety). Which OBVIOUSLY entirely misses the point because it is a question of degree – not a black-and-white situation.

The characteristics that determine inclusion on the autism spectrum involve three areas wherein subjects need to vary significantly from the norm. I would add with so-called mental conditions ( or ‘illnesses’) they would need to also affect how the person lives in the world.

Is the anxiety (or depression) so intense and/ or frequent that it interferes with life? Is depression a reaction to events in the world- like a death- or not? An adult who is seriously affected may not be able to live independently, work, have social relationships or do what they choose. They are hemmed in by anxiety or too exhausted by depression to operate effectively. Their fearful thoughts may prevent them from focusing on work tasks or recreational activities which they had formerly managed quite well and enjoyed. Their life is diminished. They may suffer in other ways emotionally.

You may know that the original intelligence tests were developed to screen students who would be able to function well in governmentally sponsored schools ( in France long ago).

Thus autism varies along lines that reflect abilities in a social context- primarily, for children- of school. Of course we’re looking at both capacities to manage schoolwork ( relevant to age) and social interaction and mores. At what point are abilities so significantly different that they require exceptional instruction and classroom structure?
I don’t know if it is appropriate to call this a disease either.

Many people on the spectrum do not require changes in educational instruction at all. Many may have minor problems with social interaction or communication but not in any serious way; so do people NOT on the spectrum. Psychologists often study individual differences and these are some of them.

@ ann #54

The device issue is complicated in that there was an approved device with some empirical research showing it can be effective in certain cases of intractable self-injury (i.e., SIB that did not respond to primary intervention classes) and was used only as a last resort. What’s complicated is that other devices were developed and not approved while their usage was also not in following with the circumstances under which the device was shown to have an effect. Banning the device is less important that not allowing it to be used except under certain extraordinary circumstances, with having exhausted all other possibilities (and that should be subject to peer review), and that its use is overseen by an expert. I would add that it also be used only with very severe time limitations. I see banning the device as a reaction (and perhaps warranted) of its misuse. This is not as clear cut of a situation as it may appear.

@ KayMarie, I was responding to your statement that “I’m not sure how much of the extreme measures are for the kids who are just a tad odd vs those who are unlikely to ever be able to function without a full time care taker of one sort or another.” We’re talking about “extreme measures,” and your statement implies that they may be acceptable for those with severe autism. Otherwise, why make the distinction as to who the “extreme measures” are for?

I think Orac makes an important point that the use of aversives as a treatment has little scientific evidence to support it. Orac calls it quackery, but this type of treatment was in the mainstream of autism treatments long before autism “biomed” came along. As Michelle Dawson has said, autistics deserve better. They deserve to have autism treatments held to the same standard of scientific scrutiny as any other treatment. I can’t help agreeing with Jopari that xenophobia could be a reason for people’s willingness to inflict barbaric treatments on a vulnerable group of people.

@BA, the JRC was using an unapproved “device,” but the FDA is considering revoking its previous approval of the approved “device” despite the fact that there are still apologists for its use such as yourself.

I don’t believe KayMarie intended to imply that it’s okay to use “extreme measures”, just that she’s struggling to understand what might drive a person to use such measures. The most obvious explanations are either the parents are heartless bastards or they’re so desperate that they feel it’s worth the risk of harming the child in hope of saving the child. The latter is easier to understand, even if it’s still wrong.

So if it’s only the really severe cases that get sent to camps like this, it’s perhaps understandable since their parents are so desperate they aren’t thinking straight and may be suckered in more easily by the camp operators into thinking that yes, this is worth it to save the child.

But from what I’ve been reading, it’s not just the most severe. And most of the parents don’t actually know how severe the punishments are.

Incidentally, “mild” autism doesn’t mean the child doesn’t have serious problems. In fact, without the obvious autistic traits, it may be harder since more will be expected of the child. If you have a child who seems perfectly normal but abruptly shuts completely down when frustrated by something and absolutely will not comply with anything . . . well, you’ve got a child who, despite being perfectly capable of doing all the tasks expected of them, is simply not going to do them and will present a gigantic problem for caregivers in any kind of organized program who need that child to do something specific right now, like get on the bus to school or move from the library to phy ed or whatever. And it will seem like very intentional defiance, and it can make parents feel very desperate indeed, even though it’s not what many people would call “severe” autism.

I could see the parents of a child like that becoming desperate enough to be prey for a residential boot camp program.

One more thing:

When considering these residential programs, remember that they’re not presented as just a punishment detail. They’re presented as a *treatment*. Though somehow they escape being regulated as psychiatric treatment centers, these camps use the same sorts of strategies that quacks use to lure in patients. You get the testimonials from past patients and their parents. You get a lack of negative reports; never mind that this is because they don’t keep adequate records in the first place. You get bold assurances. You get praise for being brave enough to do right by your child. Of course, the creep factor goes way up once the child arrives, since they know they have to prevent the child giving an accurate assessment, so they restrict the child’s access to telephones, require that the children write positive letters home or they don’t get to eat, encourage snitching, punish anyone even appearing to question the staff . . . in short, they induce Stockholm Syndrome on purpose. They also make parents sign NDAs, which ought to be a red flag, but of course we all know the reason con artists survive is that some people are really bad at spotting red flags.

I think in most cases, the parents don’t realize what’s going on at the camps. They are victims too, not perpetrators. Parents who do approve of this sort of punishment will probably be more likely to administer it personally than to pay to have it done.

No time to check, but IIRC rebirthing was developed by Stanislav Grof as a substitute for LSD when it became unavailable (legally) to researchers. Rebirthing involves hyperventilating until an altered state of consciousness is induced.

Ah, I see. I may have naively made an unwarranted connection to the usual death-rebirth stuff.


That was not what I was trying to imply at all. I was responding to how could anyone be so xenophobic they would assume anyone anywhere on the spectrum had an illness at all.

There is a school of thought that anyone that neuro-normative people label as autistic should just be allowed to be however they are with no intervention because there isn’t actually anything wrong with any of them. They just think a little different so leave them alone and stop trying to fix them. None of them are ill.

I have friends with severely autistic kids who without full time care would not be fed, clothed and sheltered in anyway that supports continued existence. How can anyone say they aren’t ill and I am just afraid of them, that is the only reason I think they need treatment (good scientific treatment, for the record, again)

I don’t think saying they are just fine the way they are and the only reason to even attempt to call them ill or intervene is because you are just scared of the weird ones.

*sigh* I’m all for scientifically backed treatments for anyone no matter who they are are or what they suffer from that maintain the dignity of each and every human being, but I guess nothing will convince you of that.

Please stop staying I agree with torturing anyone for anything. I certainly did not mean to imply that.

Saying, not staying, *sigh again*

Do I need to one more time reiterate I had NO intention of implying anyone should be tortured.

I don’t think terrorists or criminals should be tortured, why would I think it is OK to do to little kids.


I’m not even struggling to comprehend how someone could get sucked into a psuedo-scientific promise of a cure.

I know how bad the struggle can be with autistic kids from my friends who have them. I know how desperate they feel. Fortunately my friends are ones who are able, and willing, to do the work and use only treatments that are based in the best science we have at the moment.

What I’m struggling with is the reasoning that the only reason people with autism (or any other illness that alters behavior in anyway) is neuro-normative oppression borne from xenophobia.

Not sure if the neuro-varient people are not ill in any way (tyranny of the neuro-normative) is pseudo-science or just pseudo-academic, but I don’t think it is all that more useful to the ill than any other pseudo-scientific theory of treatment. Does it matter if the psuedo-science says you don’t need treatment? I don’t think that is OK either.


With the benefit of a little more time, I see that although ‘Rebirthing’ and Grof’s ‘Holotropic Breathwork’ are remarkably similar, they were apparently developed independently. It does seem odd to me that two people at around the same time would independently discover (or more likely come to believe) that hyperventilation leads to re-experiencing one’s own birth. I have experimentally tried hyperventilating, and found it a very unpleasant experience (muscle cramps and feelings of intense anxiety) and did not persist with it.

Other practices called ‘Rebirthing’ such as compression therapy and holding-nurturing process are, I think, unrelated. At least those using breathing techniques try to distance themselves from them, presumably because they are cruel and barbaric (in my opinion).

Calli: I think in most cases, the parents don’t realize what’s going on at the camps. They are victims too, not perpetrators.

I dunno, I’m not inclined to be that generous. I will grant that some f the parents may be unusually weak-willed, others just plain desperate, and a fair percent ground down by peer pressure. (The evangelical life is hard on women, in particular. There’s a real life Stepfordization process in those communities)

@KayMarie, okay, I see that I misunderstood the point you were trying to make. You wanted to discuss whether autism is an illness or not. I’m pretty sure it isn’t. It’s a disability but not a disease process. (Autistic people can have illnesses, I’m saying that autism itself isn’t an illness.) I also think that teaching autistic kids skills and helping them learn to manage disabling aspects of autism and how to navigate the world better is not necessarily the same thing as treating, let alone curing, autism. But that’s another topic; the subject today is aversive behavioral treatments.

Banning the device is less important that not allowing it to be used except under certain extraordinary circumstances, with having exhausted all other possibilities (and that should be subject to peer review), and that its use is overseen by an expert. I would add that it also be used only with very severe time limitations. I see banning the device as a reaction (and perhaps warranted) of its misuse. This is not as clear cut of a situation as it may appear.

It is to me.

I’m not sure what “peer review” means in a non-publishing context. But if it means that before the treatment provider could act on a decision to give painful electric shocks to suffering people — in order to prevent self-injury! For their own good! — it would be subject to review by his or her professional peers:

If there’s enough time and resources to do that, there’s enough time and resources to use non-violent, pain-free restraint.

Moreover, even if the ban was exclusively and simply a reaction to the device’s misuse, it would be more than warranted. It’s not just that there’s no evidence at the JRC that such a tactic/technique can’t be used without being abused. There’s none any place on earth throughout all of human history. Each and every time anyone anywhere has ever decided that inflicting cruel punishment on helpless people was good for them and society, it’s turned out — surprise, surprise — to be nothing but abuse.

That’s pretty f’ing clear-cut. If you ask me.

Restraint sometime directly contributes to worsening. Don’t get me wrong, I am not in favor of shock, have never used it and found such methods are not necessary in my practice but I am not able to ignore research results. Or case studies such as the Lesch-Nyhan patients who have bitten off their lips and digits, sought out such treatment that they consented to, as legally competent individuals, to have implemented.

@BA #78 – Would you kindly cite the research results that you refer to?
Regarding research, the FDA has expressed concern that there is no way to carry out scientifically sound and ethical clinical studies on shock therapy. The FDA’s April 2014 report for its Neurological Devices Panel, for those with a strong stomach, can be read here:
The report also discusses other treatments for developmentally disabled people, such as drugs, brain surgery, and other aversives besides electric shock, including pouring water on them or spraying it in their faces. It’s a sobering read indeed.

Restraint sometime directly contributes to worsening. /blockquote>

I can’t think of any way to puzzle out what, exactly, that means without an example.

Self-evidently, restraint is not a pleasant or enjoyable condition. It can be a traumatic experience, in fact. And that’s potentially counter-productive and/or destructive.

There’s no ideal solution. But cruelty is not acceptable. And giving people painful, frightening electric shocks to terrorize them into submission is cruel.

That’s not help. It’s not debatable.

Calli Arcale, there is something wrong with you if you think that behavioural problems are treated by society as something to change with pysical punishment.

Behavioural abberation is, I think, an apt description. Especially when compared with the notion that it’s a disease. I’m not implying that you said it was, just stating why I believe that behavioural abberation is what it is.

Ba, Physical abuse of any form should be avoided (especially what seems to me more like gratification of sadistic urges) is more harmful than restraint, and in the case of patients who harm themselves, restraint can easily be done, I’d tie them to a bed than let themselves bite off their digits. The idea that desperate situations require desperate measures still require those methods to have a reasonable success rate.

Ignore the pic, I have no idea where that came from, and it certainly ain’t anyone I know.


Even more than “is it an illness” which still brings me to maybe the evil normals shouldn’t try to change autistics in anyway concerns I have (which I don’t think is any more science-based than any of the pseudo-scientific nonsense used to design treatments that are damaging (either this severe or a lot of the other ones that seem more benign on the surface).

Is just which normals were being accused of being xenophobes and why bigotry is the only reason people seek treatments or design treatments.

I think some of the people developing these treatments are just psychopaths and they need victims. They don’t particularly hate different thinkers (autistic or having a mental illness other than some mental disability) they just need a vulnerable population to use for need fulfillment.

Or is the the normal parents who are evil and just hate their kids so deeply they specifically seek out treatments from psuedo-scientific psychopathic hacks because they know they can’t get away with just torturing their kids at home so are happy to find someone to hurt their kids as much as possible.

I just don’t get that xenophobia is the main motivation. However there is a movement that says normal people can’t help but be bigots and all treatment programs (even the science-based compassionate ones) are just about the inability of normal people to tolerate anything but other normal people.

I’m not sure ascribing the motives of the torturers or parents to the tyranny of the neuro-normative theory helps prevent atrocities or ensure that treatments are designed well.

I think the parents aren’t xenophobic, they are just desperate to see their children do well and be able to become functional adults in society and that desperation allows them to be more easily fooled by the psychopaths running these places. I doubt the psychopaths running the joint tell the parents what really happens to their kids or the parents are specifically seeking only treatments that involve torture. There hear someone promising a cure when everyone else is just talking about incremental improvements.

I guess the question is what prevents this.

1) fight the bigotry (xenophobia) and generally block most if not all treatments (as they are all based in bigotry even if they aren’t so severe and obviously abusive)

2. Regulate the industry so psychopaths do not get to own treatment facilities and develop and market high quality science-based treatment programs while educating parents on what is possible through treatment and what is not.


Abusive aversive training isn’t something that only appeals to desperate people whose kids have seriously problematic behaviours. Look up a book called ‘To Train Up A Child’ by Micheal Pearl. It’s freely for sale on Amazon. It explains how to break your kids’ wills and make them submissive and obedient by beating them with plumbing line for the most minor infractions. Kids have died at the hands of parents using the techniques in the book.

Aversive training for autistic children finds a market because there are plenty of people out there who still think that inflicting pain is a perfectly okay teaching tool for any child.

Again, I am not advocating that anyone ever be violent to anyone for any reason. I don’t care what they did or who they are. Don’t hit, torture or kill people for any reason. Some days I do tend to the militant pacifism and I’m against a lot of stuff that most people think is just fine.

I am also not naive and think people don’t beat their kids and use whatever justification they need. I know of that book and have seen some interviews with the idjit that wrote them.

It is about the motivation of why anyone would do this that is my issue, but apparently no one else can even consider that possibility here. I’ll try one last time to explain.

I’m just wondering if I am considered a bigoted xenophobe for even thinking someone with autism may need any treatment of any kind at all, or are only certain treatments evidence of xenophobia. Because most of the lit I’ve read that tends that way calls all treatments for people who have autism (or schizophrenia or any other thing that alters one’s thinking patterns) evidence of xenophobia, not just the violent pseudo-scientific ones.

Because when I think of all the reasons that people get into the violence upon others business as a provider or customer, or even if they want to do it themselves, xenophobia usually isn’t the main reason I think of.

But knowing environmental justice, etc work as I do it could be all normal people are bigots who hate the differently thinking and just a few of us lack the self-control we need to not beat up and torture every kid acting up in the grocery store we come across.

Jopari: Calli Arcale, there is something wrong with you if you think that behavioural problems are treated by society as something to change with pysical punishment.

Jopari, I think you misunderstood. In this case, Calli’s quite right that behavioral problems are treated by society as an aberration and believed to need stern correction to fix. However, she doesn’t support it. (Neither do I, though we differ on the culpability of the parents.) There’s a big difference between observing a disturbing behavior (abuse of children) and supporting it.

Kaymarie: Or is the the normal parents who are evil and just hate their kids so deeply they specifically seek out treatments from psuedo-scientific psychopathic hacks because they know they can’t get away with just torturing their kids at home so are happy to find someone to hurt their kids as much as possible.

Well, people like the denizens of Age of Autism and TMR aren’t exactly the most stable people out there, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were deliberately seeking out the most extreme cures in order to hurt their kids. And yes, most of the quacks who trumpet their ‘cures’ for autism are deliberately exploiting a desperate population. Basically, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Grouchybeast: Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of it. That’s one of the reasons why I disagree with Calli’s description of parents who send their kids off to Jesus camps as delicate deceived flowers. It’s pretty hard to convince people that they’re endangering their kids when a child-abuse manual is endorsed by their pastor. Even if they don’t use the Pearl’s manual, I’d imagine that many of their friends and family do.

@Anne #79

Here are some:

A long-term follow-up of treatment for severe self-injury.

Williams DE, Kirkpatrick-Sanchez S, Crocker WT.

Res Dev Disabil. 1994 Nov-Dec;15(6):487-501.

PMID: 7871235 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Related citations

Select item 8190974

Positive side effects in the treatment of SIB using the Self-Injurious Behavior Inhibiting System (SIBIS): implications for operant and biochemical explanations of SIB.
Linscheid TR, Pejeau C, Cohen S, Footo-Lenz M.
Res Dev Disabil. 1994 Jan-Feb;15(1):81-90.
PMID: 8190974 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

A comparison of shock intensity in the treatment of longstanding and severe self-injurious behavior.

Williams DE, Kirkpatrick-Sanchez S, Iwata BA.

Res Dev Disabil. 1993 May-Jun;14(3):207-19.
PMID: 8316683 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

A 4-year follow-up of treatment of self-injury.
Ricketts RW, Goza AB, Matese M.
J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 1993 Mar;24(1):57-62.
PMID: 8370798 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Clinical evaluation of the self-injurious behavior inhibiting system (SIBIS).

Linscheid TR, Iwata BA, Ricketts RW, Williams DE, Griffin JC.
J Appl Behav Anal. 1990 Spring;23(1):53-78.
PMID: 2335486 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


I’m not sure how many are just evil enough to desperately need to hurt their kids (or so xenophobic that atypical kids are not even human so it doesn’t matter), or so desperate that the normally bad risk/benefit and other assessment mechanisms are so completely overwhelmed and they literally can’t see the forest for the trees. Which makes them easy pickings for anyone who comes along and waves hope for a cure at them.

I mean most parents with Munchhausen’s by proxy (in my limited understanding) usually aren’t hurting the kids out of a need to hurt the kids, there are other disordered (there is my xenophobia again) thought processes that end up in a really bad place. The abuse is more of a means to an end rather than the thing that drives the behavior, IMO.

Although there may be some parents so narcissistic that they need to punish the little darling for being so selfish for choosing to be so damaged just to avoid being the perfect accessory the parent needed. There are those who need to destroy anyone around them that is not fulfilling the need they are expected to fill. I just don’t see that as the majority of parents, or that society is so hellbent on oppressing neuro-diversity it will do anything it’s xenophobic little collective conscious or subconscious desires to those that do not submit and be normal.

PGP: There was an expose recently about some of these camps. Not religious-based ones, as it happens. They interviewed parents who were attempted to seek justice for what had been done to their children, because they indeed had not known. It was very frightening to see how systematically they control what the parents get to see and how they control the children’s reporting to the parents. They also come at it from the other side, discrediting the children by feeding the notion that children with defiance issues tend to lie about stuff. It was a very creepy thing to read and it opened my eyes to the fact that in many cases, the parents may be victims of a scam artist as well. Like parents who keep taking their kids to a counselor who sexually abuses them; the parents don’t realize what’s going on, because the counselor has been controlling the information they receive while discrediting the child’s reports and grooming the child to not rat them out. I don’t know how these camp operators can sleep at night. As bad as we think it is, the reality is probably worse because we struggle to conceive of anyone doing this stuff.

Jopari: PGP is correct. I do not think that physical punishment is an effective treatment for behavioral problems, and I find the idea abhorrent. I was describing the intent of those using the treatment.

Unrelated note: it’s worth mentioning that electroshock therapy and aversive therapy using electric shocks are two completely different things. For one thing, in modern electroshock therapy I believe the patient is usually sedated first — they don’t actually experience the shocks at all and the idea is definitely not to inflict pain. It’s more like using a defibrillator to restore a normal rhythm in the heart, though as far as I know, nobody really understands why electroshock seems to be helpful in major depression. So we need to be careful not to describe the aversive “therapy” as “electroshock” because it’s a different thing altogether.

@BA, thanks for your list of citations; I will go through them as I have time.
The first one I have looked at is Williams et al (1993). This paper was about Suzanne, the unfortunate young woman who was chosen as the single subject. She was intellectually disabled and had “severe self-injurious behavior.” The 1993 paper reports on an experiment where they compared the effect on Suzanne of using the Self-Injurious Behavior Inhibiting System (SIBIS), delivering 3.5 milliamps of current, with the effect of using the Hot Shot Power Mite (a cattle prod; you can still buy it), delivering 18.5 milliamps of current. Guess what – the cattle prod worked better! The SIBIS resulted in “minimal reduction” of Suzanne’s self-injurious behavior, where the more powerful cattle prod was more effective. However, the effect was temporary – after about 6 months, “a relapse occurred.”
This study is over 20 years old, involves a single subject, and probably would not be considered ethical today. I wouldn’t put this in the category of research that cannot be ignored.

Check the last one on the list. I am not saying these are justification for using shock but that there is not one side. My personal interpretation of behavioral ethics comes straight from Murray Sidman. Check out his book Coercion and Its Fallout ('s+'Coercion+and+Its+Fallout.’-a017150071) and you will see the general stance of whether aversive control is justified. My experience as a clinician has taught me that there is no black and white when it comes to whether aversive control can be justified. A good clinician’s crafting of treatment strategies will NOT rely on aversive control but does it play a role in some cases? That is not an easy question to answer. I love the people I serve as if they are my children, brothers, sisters, cousins but with objectivity. I work to provide the most effective treatment as clients have a right to that. I want them to not suffer and to prosper in the world.

I noticed a few programs in the US mentioned, so I thought I’d clarify a bit as some of the comments are dated.

The Judge Rotenberg Center, the only place where ‘taser backpacks’ were used, has been prohibited from starting any new patients on the ‘treatment’ and are under pressure to remove existing patients, some who have worn these backpacks for decades (which should show you how effective it is…). However the program is still extremely questionable and relies on, what I would call, elementary and abusive ideas of behavior modification.

Many of the other programs, like the one in Jamaica (Tranquility Bay) have been shut down. I actually have a friend who was in a sister program of it, which was also shut down. It’s much harder to operate physically abusive programs now, at least on a large scale, so most programs that are physically abusive are smaller, often offshoots of religious sects serving only members of that sect. However, many other programs employ what I would call psychologically abusive practices. I would hazard to guess that most schools, hospitals, residential programs, etc routinely rely on psychologically abusive practices due to inadequate training or staffing, which is disgusting. There are also a lot of ‘ABA’ offshoots that are extremely questionable.

What Anne (#42) and Nicole (#93) said. ABA is considered the only science based therapy. Lovaas did the same thing 50 years ago, and behaviorists have fought to keep it alive, and to have it be mandated as “medical treatment” @ $60,000 a year for insurance carriers in all the states Autism Speaks can work politically to get it passed. Unfortunately, even the “nice” forms of it felt like abuse to adult autistics who are attempting to be heard..

Harlows monkeys preferred a cloth mama to one with wire and milk. They would rather starve to death than not feel comfort. Comfort is an innate feeling, not a measurable behavior, I guess. Hats off to the wire monkey mothers…

@ usethebrainsgodgiveyou: Harlows monkeys didn’t try to starve themselves. Please re-read the study. The baby monkeys would go to the wire monkey to feed but used the cloth monkey for security and to cling to.

No time to check, but IIRC rebirthing was developed by Stanislav Grof as a substitute for LSD when it became unavailable (legally) to researchers.

I think rebirthing grew out of Primal Scream therapy (though I can’t be bothered dredging out my copy of ‘Psychobabble’). Independently, Grof was regressing people in LSD trials, and convinced himself that he was encountering four basic recurring themes or psychic states (based on four stages of birth experience, ultimately inspired by Otto Rank’s version of psychoanalysis). I say “independently” because Grof was working in Czechoslovakia, without much access to the US literature.

Then the LSD ran out, and Grof started using carbogen — i.e. his holotropic breathwork — which reinforced his conviction that everything started with birth trauma. I don’t think he got so much into rebirthing, though. He stayed with the old-school goal of anamnesis — *remembering* what happened is supposed to remove the need to re-enact it.

“Rebirthing” grew out of a Transactional Analysis’s “Reparenting” model, invented by Jacui Lee Schiff (who has her own entry in Encyclopedia of American Loons.

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