Autism Speaks opposes proposed loophole that would circumvent ban on electrical stimulation devices

Autism Speaks reinforces its longstanding rejection of electrical stimulation device use on individuals with autism and other disabilities

July 9, 2024

Autism Speaks and 39 other organizations sent a joint letter this week to members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, asking for the removal of a rider provision that would create a loophole through which the Judge Rotenberg Center could continue the use of electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) to deliver painful electric shocks for the alleged purposes of modifying harmful behavior in people with disabilities. 

After nearly a decade of advocacy by Autism Speaks and other organizations to ban the use of ESDs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now has the authority and is currently taking action to reinstate a ban on the use of ESDs on individuals with autism and other disabilities. The FDA determined that the devices used to deliver these powerful shocks – which are designed and manufactured by the same and only facility that uses them in the United States – should be banned due to an unreasonable risk of harm to those receiving shocks. However, this legislative proposal threatens to undercut the proposed FDA ban on ESDs by insulating a single facility, the Judge Rotenberg Center, from FDA oversight and regulation.

Autism Speaks has long denounced this practice, recognizing the danger for psychological and physical harm in using ESDs to condition children and adults with autism to not engage in self-injurious or aggressive behaviors. When the FDA first proposed the ban of ESDs in 2016, Autism Speaks filed comments in support and applauded when the ban officially took place in 2020. When a federal appellate court overturned the ban in 2021, we disagreed with their decision and asked Congress to intervene. Thanks to action by Congress, the FDA is now in a position of authority to issue a new ban on these devices. Yet, the legislative proposal currently up for consideration undermines this historical effort to protect individuals from the harmful consequences of ESD use. Autism Speaks pledges to continue efforts to get this provision removed and ensure ESDs are banned from use on people with autism and other disabilities.