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FDA Panel Recommends Banning Rotenberg Child Shock Devices

FDA Panel Recommends Banning Rotenberg Child Shock DevicesAmerica is one of the few countries where you can provide an electrical shock to a child and still call it “therapy.” Aversive therapy, to be specific.

It is a treatment so out of the mainstream of modern treatment that it is used by only one treatment center in the entire United States, the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts. It is an inhumane treatment used with little research evidence to support its long-term use or value.

And finally, after its use for decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Neurological Devices Panel on Thursday recommended their ban.

We’ve previously discussed the abuse and misuse of these devices, officially called Graduated Electronic Decelerators (GEDs). One former patient was able to make a simple phone call and impersonate a staffer, resulting in the shock of two other patients 100 times. This horrific incident resulted in Rotenberg’s founder, Matthew Israel, to step down. Then videos were released of the form of “treatment” Rotenberg regularly employs — shocking children into compliance.

The Judge Rotenberg Center has long used the devices based primarily on testimonials and their empty claims that alternative forms of treatment simply don’t exist. If their claims were true, there’d be at least a dozen treatment centers in the U.S. that should be using the device. But there’s only one — Rotenberg.

The use of the devices is so bad and so out of the mainstream of modern psychological treatment that the United Nations has said use of electroshock devices by the Judge Rotenberg Center constitutes a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture.

Furthermore, the Rotenberg Center uses devices that have never received FDA approval. Why? Because they have been substantially modified from earlier models. One device “has an average output current that is almost three times that” of the FDA-approved model, the agency said.

Even the original devices weren’t subjected to the rigor and scientific evidence testing the FDA now requires of modern medical devices. They were grandfathered in under older, lax guidelines that required virtually no data to gain approval.

The entire world looks upon the U.S.’s allowance of these devices to be used as a form of “treatment” on developmentally disabled children and teens in disgust.

After a hearing on Thursday reviewing all of the data and scant scientific evidence that exists for use of these devices, the Neurological Devices Panel of the FDA finally agreed. They recommended to the FDA that the use of the devices be banned in the U.S. While the FDA doesn’t have to follow the panel’s recommendations, they usually do.

The devices, based upon animal conditioning models from the 1960s, deliver microbursts of electricity to the child’s skin, with one former student describing the shocks as “like a thousand bees stinging you in the same place for a few seconds.”

The problem also lies in the fact that the Rotenberg Center has long claimed the devices are only used dangerous and self-injurious behaviors, but a long line of former “students” of the Center, video tape, and incidents at the Center have clearly shown otherwise:

“She wanted people to see that it’s really torture, that it’s incredibly painful,” said University of Delaware Professor Nancy Weiss, who also attended the hearing.

“Although the Judge Rotenberg Center says that they use these electric shocks for dangerous and self-injurious behaviors, the vast majority of shocks are used for behaviors like standing up or getting out of your seat or speaking when not spoken to. And so people there really don’t get to the point of having dangerous behaviors because they’re shocked for anything that they do that’s not within the control of their staff,” Weiss said.

We’re very glad to see that the FDA now has the opportunity to put these medieval to bed — something that should’ve been done a decade or more ago. The risks of these devices outweigh the benefits, and the Rotenberg Center has clearly demonstrated they cannot be trusted using them only for their intended purpose.


Read the full article: FDA panel recommends banning shock devices

FDA Panel Recommends Banning Rotenberg Child Shock Devices

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). FDA Panel Recommends Banning Rotenberg Child Shock Devices. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Apr 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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