Court Overturns F.D.A. Ban on School’s Electric Shock Devices

The center said that any abuse of the shock devices or mistreatment of patients “is taken very seriously.” Public records show that in recent years, the center has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying in both New York State, where more than half the center’s students are from, and Massachusetts. It has also spent more than a quarter-million dollars over the past decade on lobbying federal entities, including the F.D.A., the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Shain Neumeier, a lawyer who has represented former residents and uses the pronoun “they,” said that many were not able to consent to the treatment themselves, and that parents did not always understand what it entailed. They argue that there is a difference between people shocking themselves to curb habits like smoking, which the F.D.A. permits, and shocking others — who may not be able to articulate their needs — as a behavioral punishment.

“This approach involves a lot of dehumanization, an idea that you’re basically training a dog,” they said. “Or you’re trying to get a person to do what you want, rather than follow their own goals and get their own needs met.”

But Larry Mirro, from Island Park, N.Y., said the treatment was life-changing for his son Billy, 39. Before being enrolled at the center in 2003, his son took many different medications with varying side effects to treat his autism, and repeatedly abused himself, Mr. Mirro said.

Most facilities either could not help or did not accept his son. “He smashed his head all over the place,” Mr. Mirro said.

Before consenting to electric shock therapy for Billy, Mr. Mirro said, he did research and tested the shock on himself — it felt like a bee sting, he said. After his son started on the treatment, he noticed a change within six months.

“His behavior totally changed, where he had a life,” Mr. Mirro said. “He really had a life.”

After about 11 years, though, the family was forced to take Billy out of the facility because New York’s disability services office would no longer pay for the out-of-state facility, Mr. Mirro said. His son has since gone back on medications, he said, and gone blind from self-abuse.

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