Shock Treatments In Autism? The Difficult Considerations

| by Val

A center in Canton, Mass is using shock therapy as an intervention for behaviors. Essentially, whenever an undesirable behavior is exhibited by an affected individual, they are given a shock that is painful enough to stop the behavior. I don't really know the success rate for this particular treatment at the facility in question.

Having experienced the worst of the worst as far as behavior and psychosis in my own daughter's case, and having seen the more conventional use of medications completely fail for several years - both in treatment of the schizophrenic tendencies and self injurious, catatonic like behaviors; I totally understand the desperation that families contend with when the final alternative is to lose their child as a ward of the state. So, some families felt that the facility in question in the news might offer an outcome of somehow rehabilitating their child's behavior to something that was safe and manageable. I empathize with the conditions they were under and why they might try it.

Please review some of what we experience with my own daughter: "...ADMISSION NOTES…She presents with worsening aggression since being discharged from the adolescent unit. Since being discharged she has had several episodes in which she bites and hits objects. During these episodes which can last for hours she also hits whoever tries to stop her from hitting the objects. One of these
episodes occurred on 5/23/05 (in the doctor's presence)…” 

Also this: The local consensus was that Sarah was a lost cause. They told me that no further medication adjustments needed to happen, and they seemed to hold little interest in my thoughts about her wellness. Since a cause is never over until someone fails to lead it, I made a request for help to Dr. Wells on the morning of March 25. I told him that Sarah was having episodes, and she was injuring herself through one of the behaviors. She (also) started to throw chairs in the kitchen. She then grabbed a knife out of the kitchen, in order to stab holes in a certain area of the hall, ripping at the sheetrock as well. I took the knife and put it back and she tried to get it. I would not let her and so she started to attack me. She needed the knife to get rid of the wall. We learned that whatever the focus of a repetitive behavior was, in this case hitting or spitting at a certain area of a wall, she must get rid of it. That area of the wall offended her as a trigger and so she placed the blame there. I had seen the same with regard to movies that had become triggers. She pulled them out of the VHS player and ripped the tape out of the case. I was still making sense of the craziness...

She was involved in behaviors like the above (and worse) for several years. After you review of the above, please consider how we intervened upon her behaviors: The next day’s school incidents, while prevalent, were shorter in duration. During these particular days, Sarah started asking for a “tug”, so that my encouragement and our combined wills could stave off the episodes. I was glad she asked for help. In late winter, I figured out that Sarah felt we were winning if she could be distracted from the episodes. One time, I softly tackled her upon a couch that she stood by, as she engaged in an episode. Immediately after I did that, she looked at me with amazement and said, “Good job Mom. We did it!”  Another time, while she was in the unit I distracted her with a stuffed frog from the gift shop that made the “ribbit” noise. She had been engaged in an episode for quite some time when the frog distracted  her. She looked over at me and said, “Yes,” her eyes lighting up from a previously vacant stare and her face breaking into a smile. Those at the unit who had been alongside her, and quite worried, became pleased at the successful distraction; at that time, I think they feared malignant catatonia...

My mission became that of using imaginative actions and activities to distract my daughter from the behaviors, every minute of every day. It was the only way to stop the neural processes that had been heavily ingrained due to her thought disorder that had been complicated by a worsening at ten years of age; that worsening looked like schizophrenia.

I hope that the facility in question can find a way not to do the shock treatments anymore. But, I can tell you that my ability to do the distractions and redirections during every waking hour was a divine gift - I still don't know how I and the rest of my family did it.

Hello, Dr. Wells is the source of some of the above content. It is a retrospective biography that is provided at no cost in the hopes that our family's case history will help others deal with their circumstance. It is where you can find more descriptions similar to what was refered to above. The biography is available on scribd, no strings attached. You can acess the bio at walkamilewithautism or directly through scribd.