Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


August 21st, 2014

Jennifer Msumba is on the autism spectrum. For seven years, she was treated at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts, where she received painful electric shocks aimed at modifying her behavior. She describes being strapped, spread-eagle to a restraint board and shocked multiple times before she left the center in 2009. CBS Evening News.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), also known as Pervasive Development Disorder, is a diagnosis that is more prevalent than ever before and one that is concerning not only for the medical community, but for the parents and families of those diagnosed with it, too.

Back in March of this year, a CDC study reported that one in 68 children has Autism (ASD). This was a 30 percent increase since the agency estimated just two years before that one child in 88 suffered from the disorder. There is some controversy as to the validity of the reported increase in diagnosis but ASD remains a major issue in this country. It is one of a parent’s most feared diagnoses.

The CBS News story is the first to really “out” electric shock as a treatment for those with ASD. After watching the segment, you certainly can see there is controversy attached to its usage, as well.

ASD is a condition that has a number of variables, and those are specific to each person diagnosed with it. Some people cannot communicate at all while others are social. Some can be compulsive and inflexible, preoccupied with similar ritualized behaviors that can go on for hours. Others can be aggressive and prone to angry outbursts or temper tantrums. Some have mood swings, can be hyperactive, and the list goes on. The important thing to recognize is that all these symptoms do not show up in every person diagnosed with ASD.

Without knowing the full story and seeing the diagnoses of the patients included in the news story, I cannot render an appropriate opinion on specific treatment recommendations, but I can say that the use of shock therapy for these types of children seems far-fetched to me. Using shock conditioning seems primitive, if not downright out of the realm of accepted standards of care. When I treat young people with ASD I almost always recommend medication and behavioral therapy, as well as proper educational placement. I have never recommended electric shock and find it difficult to imagine ever prescribing.

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.

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