Founder of Judge Rotenberg Centre Charged: Why did it take so long?

Filed Under (Behaviours, Institutions, Law) by Estee on 25-05-2011

Matthew Israel, Founder of the Judge Rotenberg Educational Centre where autistic students were taught to comply with electrical shock “treatment,” has finally been charged. Here from

The founder of the controversial Judge Rotenberg Educational Center is scheduled to face criminal charges in Dedham today arising from a night in 2007 when two special needs teenagers at the center were wrongfully administered dozens of electrical shocks, according to the father of one of the victims and another person with knowledge about the case.

In a deal reached with the state attorney general’s office, Matthew Israel, 77, is expected to be spared prison time in return for stepping down from the Canton-based center that he founded 40 years ago and accepting a five-year probationary term, said Charles Dumas, the father of one of the two victims in the 2007 case who said he spoke yesterday with prosecutors. As part of the agreement, the school’s day-to-day activities will also be overseen by a court-approved monitor.

As a mother of an autistic son, I am sick that it has taken this long after many of us signed petitions to stop him. I read through reams of his statements suggesting why this form of Behavioural Conditioning was an “effective treatment” for autism.

The Judge Rotenberg Center treatment goals include a near-zero rejection/expulsion policy, active treatment with a behavioral approach directed exclusively towards normalization, frequent use of behavioral rewards and punishment, video monitoring of staff and the option to use aversives, the most controversial of which is the use of electric shocks. The final item has provoked considerable controversy and has led to calls from several disability rights groups to call for human protection from behavior modification, behavior therapy, and applied behavior analysis approaches.(From Wikipedia)

“Its most effective backers have been the parents of some of these troubled students who say Israel’s center accepted their child when no other school would. Israel has said his methods work and have virtually eliminated the use of psychotropic drugs at his center,” says the Boston Globe.

Is this the type of quality education we receive for autistic students when “no other school” will provide it? And don’t kid yourself that similar aversive tactics are not used here in Ontario. You will hear of the autistic person being “ignored” by therapists as a behavioural tactic in order to stop the person from crying. Instead of attempting to figure out what might be the root and cause of upset, a child or person will receive this cruel form of “teaching.” It is my experience that this makes a person either more aggressive or shuts them down completely.

[Israel’s] tactics have been condemned as barbaric and savage by many top medical and mental health professionals. But despite some injuries and even deaths at the facility, the center has continued to get state approval to operate as a special-needs school serving some 200 students with serious emotional and behavioral problems, including autism and intellectual disabilities.

It has taken years for Israel to be charged and such tactics to be viewed as criminal. There have been many parents who have believed that this shock treatment has been helpful and have stuck up for the Centre, typically arguing that their children are aggressive or self-injure, and the arguments can sound compelling. This is one of the reasons why it took so long to charge Israel. This is the side of parent advocacy that is risky to autistic folk. There is a side to people we don’t want to see. There are difficult sides and as our history has shown, we’d rather lock it away in institutions, and treat it harshly and ignore it all together. I was never convinced that treating human beings with shock treatment against their will was ever a viable option. I don’t imagine I ever will be.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.