If I don’t look directly at people, and don’t listen to what words they are saying, I can tell a lot about their body language and tone of voice. So one thing I did when watching an interesting set of videos from the Judge Rotenberg Center, was look slightly away from the video and not bother to turn on language comprehension. The following is what I saw.
There were two people near each other, a woman on the left and a man on the right. When one was talking, the other was backing them up through movement. Their movements were coordinated with each other and sort of bouncing off and reflecting each other all the time.
The movements of the woman were quite often something I don’t know all the words for but know when I see it. There were some incongruous movements in there that were presumably to mask something or other. The rest of the movements and noises she was making were quite often to convey a sense of “I’m superior to these students, they are doing all these, sort of silly kid things, and I am laughing in exasperated tired adultness as they go through all these different things.” This is a knowing sort of movement, designed to convey a connection to the person watching it, sort of like, “We all know what this is like,” inviting the viewer to join in the knowingness.
The man moved in more subtle ways, but they conveyed precision and confidence, very much the way many psychiatrists or scientists move. He moved in such a way as to say, “We know what we’re doing, we do not even need to be forceful in arguing anything, because we know exactly what we’re doing.” His voice reminded me strongly of something a friend calls the “male human services accent,” and also conveyed a great deal of precision in the way that he pronounced words. Sometimes it acquired condescending tones, or his equivalent of the woman’s “knowing” tones.
The overall effect is, “We know what we’re doing, even you ought to know what we’re talking about a good deal of the time, and we agree with each other totally on this stuff, seen it all before. We’re not only in control, but it is only natural that we are in control.”
What video am I talking about? It’s called Why Students Complain To Families. It sets forth a set of expectations in parents for the meaning of their children’s complaints about the Judge Rotenberg Center, and asks parents to collude in the dismissal of complaints and the shaping of their children’s behavior to include fewer complaints about the JRC and more compliments. The two professionals in the video are Dr. Timothy Paisey and Dr. Patricia Rivera.
The video is broken up into sections: Introduction, Program Structure, Complaints chapter 1: the Structure, Complaints chapter 2: the Treatment, Complaints chapter 3: the Education, Complaints chapter 4: the Staff, Complaints chapter 5: the Program, Complaints chapter 6: My Things, Complaints chapter 7: Professional Staff, Complaints chapter 8: the Food, and Complaints chapter 9: Safety. Each section details precisely why parents are not supposed to worry about the complaints, and then describes ways parents can react to the complaints.
Some quotes throughout the video on this topic:
From the introduction:
Young people often make complaints about the structure of their school no matter what environment they’re in. The more structure and consistency that the school provides, the more the students tend to complain. (Dr. Rivera)
They argue that children, possibly emotionally disturbed children in particular, are natural complainers, and would complain no matter where they were. This is meant to bring up images of children at school complaining about the cafeteria food, or complaining about reasonable rules and limits set on their behavior. It’s meant to evoke memories in parents of their children doing these things, and to tie those memories to anything the children might say about the Judge Rotenberg Center.
From Program Structure:
And as many parents can attest, most students do not like rules. (Dr. Rivera)
Of course as a parent you may have experienced that yourself, in terms of trying to impose rules or structure. (Dr. Paisey)
These make the parents identify with the professionals at the JRC.
From Chapter 1:
In some ways, if the student is complaining about the structure, and complaining about the intensity of the program, they are complaining about the very things that are effective treatment for them. (Dr. Paisey)
Exactly. Or else they wouldn’t be here. (Dr. Rivera)
Absolutely. (Dr. Paisey)
This makes it sound as if any complaints are because of the student’s lack of understanding of what is good for them.
From Chapter 5:
Some other concerns that we come across quite frequently involve general complaints about the program. Students will complain that they are physically held or restrained for no reason, and they will claim that they didn’t do anything to justify or provoke this. They will claim quite often that their behavior contracts were broken, also for no reason, or for no good reason. (Dr. Paisey)
And usually the problem is that the students don’t connect their own behavior with the consequences or structure of the program that has been put in place for them. (Dr. Paisey)
And that’s where you hear the complaint of “Staff are too strict” or “I was restrained for no reason,” because they’re not initially making that connection. (Dr. Rivera)
Of course, being restrained and otherwise punished for no reason, and then having it written up otherwise, is an incredibly common experience in institutions. It is convenient for them to have such a facile explanation for the whole thing.
From Chapter 8
Now young people complain about food all the time, in fact young people complain all the time in my experience, about everything. (Dr. Paisey)
This is true. (Dr. Rivera)
So if they weren’t at JRC, they’d probably be complaining about different things in different places… (Dr. Paisey)
Actually, the JRC imposes a strict diet on the “students”, regardless of their prior dietary preferences, and while it allows “other food” sometimes (sometimes contingent on good behavior), this is still an unreasonable restriction.
Nonetheless we will have students who do report to families that they are going crazy, or that they are going to hurt themselves, or they’re gonna run away, or they will make claims that staff abuse them, or they will say that they have marks on their bodies as a result of a restraint procedure. And they will sometimes claim that they were hurt by other people on purpose. (Dr. Paisey)
Because things like this happen in every institution I’ve seen.
And here is the big one, the one that explains everything:
If you have a telephone call or a face to face meeting during a visit with your son or daughter and they make some complaint, the first thing to do, I would suggest is to ask yourself, “Is this one of the complaints mentioned on that video I saw?” And then perhaps that will guide you towards the next step, which might be to listen briefly to the complaint. If you can, try to minimize your reaction to it. You can ask for specific details, specific contents, briefly. And then move on. Move on to something more appropriate and positive. If you think you need more information, contact the case manager. (Dr. Paisey)
See, the first thing to do is see if the complaint is mentioned on this video. If it is, then obviously it’s not a valid complaint, or something.
But in the course of the conversation with your son or daughter, try to move on. The reason is because the attention we give to what our children say is itself a reward, it reinforces that kind of behavior. If we’d like to hear more complaining, then all we have to do is pay attention to complaining. If we’d like to hear more good news and positive reports, then what we could do, is to pay a limited amount of attention to complaining, and then move on, and ask “What has happened that is appropriate and positive?” And in fact, if you start by attending to the complaint, and then move on to the more positive information, over time, perhaps the attention to the complaint that’s less, and the attention to the positive information that’s more, and you can teach your son or daughter to pay more appropriate attention and emphasis to reporting positive news. (Dr. Paisey)
That is a description of using behavior modification to get students to say good things about the Judge Rotenberg Center. In other words, a form of brainwashing.
So what we’d like to do is to actually ask your help, in assisting us to teach these students how to do this. (Dr. Rivera)
And that makes parents feel as if they are doing something helpful for brainwashing their children.
We would encourage limited attention to complaints. We would encourage you to make a note of complaints. If you detect a pattern in the complaints, share that information with the student’s case manager, because then, if we need to, we could even adjust his or her program to take account of this. Those are some active ways in which families can become more involved in treatment and some active ways in which the student will not be able to manipulate others to cause the treatment that they truly need to stop. (Dr. Paisey)
Here, it talks about how they can adjust the student’s “program” to deal with the complaints. Presumably not to stop the bad things going on, but to stop the complaints, of course.
So, as you can see, one reason that students praise the Judge Rotenberg Center is that they have been, literally, systematically trained to say positive and not negative things about the place. (I have experienced similar training, it’s nothing to take lightly.)