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Judge Reinstates Punishment Therapy For Five More Students

February 4, 1986

BOSTON (AP) _ Massachusetts officials haven’t decided whether to appeal a judge’s ruling reinstating controversial physical punishments for five more autistic students at a special care institute.

″We’re waiting for a formal release from the court,″ spokeswoman Helen Pelzman said Monday for the Massachusetts Office for Children.

The agency banned the punishments, or aversives, which range from a vapor spray station to spanks and pinches, in September for students of the Behavior Research Institute, based in Providence, R.I.

Attorneys for the school and parents of six students asked Bristol County Probate Judge Ernest Rotenberg to make exceptions. Parents have claimed the students’ behavior regressed to a life-threatening point after OFC changed the therapy.

The BRI program has many critics who say aversives are cruel and inhumane. Proponents say the physical punishments are often a last resort, used along with praise and hugs, to thwart abusive or self-destructive behavior often exhibited by autistic patients.

BRI also has come under fire since a student died there last July while undergoing white noise therapy. The Bristol County District Attorney’s office is investigating the death.

In December, Rotenberg ordered some of the measures - a food program and spanks, if necessary - reinstated for a New York student who had resumed banging her head on the floor and pulling out her hair when the treatment program was changed.

In that instance, attorneys for the school, OFC and parents came to an agreement.

But the state agency, which licenses BRI and its group homes in Massachusetts, opposed exceptions for the other five students.

After a hearing Friday in Attleboro, Rotenberg ordered the treatment reinstated Monday, said Donna Vaughn, first assistant Bristol County probate register.

Rotenberg has given parents of one student, a 23-year-old autistic, mentally retarded man identified as Wayne, authority to reinstate BRI’s full range of aversive therapy - including the Automatic Vapor Spray station.

OFC has objected strenuously to the station, a small booth where a student is alternately sprayed in the face with compressed air and water while standing, restrained at the wrists and wearing a helmet.

For the four other students, Rotenberg reinstated all the aversives except the station.

The judge also required written updates on the students’ condition every 20 days.

″We’re very pleased to have this opportunity to restore the treatment program,″ said BRI attorney Eric MacLeash.