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Electric Shock Treatment for Kids?; Bush Meets with Nigerian President

Aired March 29, 2006 - 10:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're now focusing on children who are said to be so out of control, they're a danger to themselves and others. The goal is to get them help. But what if the only treatment left was guaranteed to be painful -- in fact, it was designed to be painful?
A closer look now at troubled children and their desperate parents and the controversial treatment that critics say amounts to torture. We do want to warn you, some of the images you're about to see are pretty rough.

Here is CNN's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Antwone Nicholson's school looks more like Disneyland than a place for kids with special needs. There are pinball machines and cartoon characters, wax figures and artwork punctuate with cornflower blues and vivid pinks. Each student has a computer, healthy food, plush quarters, heavy supervision, and constant attention.

Why then would Antwone's mother, Evelyn Nicholson, be fighting like mad to get him out of this place?

EVELYN NICHOLSON, ANTWONE'S MOTHER: He would call me up crying and say, "You've got to get me out of here. I can't take this."

KAYE: Because along with the perks at this center for troubled children come the punishments. The Judge Rotenberg Center claims to be the only one in the country using electric shock aversion therapy. They call it the Graduated Electronic Decelerator, the GED. And half their students go to school each day tethered to electrodes housed in a fanny pack.

(on camera): Really bad pain on a scale of one to 10, what would you say? Ten is really bad.


KAYE (voice over): It's a therapy almost as old as electricity itself, banned as barbaric at a far higher voltage, illegal in some states. To Evelyn Nicholson, it is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" for kids.

Child psychiatrist David Fassler. DAVID FASSLER, M.D., CHILD PSYCHIATRIST, UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT: This is clearly an intervention which is out of the mainstream. Personally, I worry about the ramifications and the implications long term for the kids.

KAYE: Yet, Evelyn signed a legal consent form that allowed them to strap electrodes on Antwone that deliver 65 volts of electricity by remote control. He got them one at a time each time he cussed, hit, threatened, or frightened someone.

(on camera): You still signed it?


KAYE: How come?

NICHOLSON: Because that was the only -- that was the only place they had for Antwone.

KAYE (voice-over): Now she's suing her New York school district for sending Antwone out of state so they could, in her words, torture and abuse him for engaging in aggressive, unfocused behavior.

Dr. Matthew Israel has been under fire from parents and doctors and psychiatrists since he invented the electric shock device 16 years ago. Dr. Israel calls it behavioral skin shock, a bee sting, a prick, an electric spanking, nothing like the convulsive shock treatments demonized in films.

DR. MATTHEW ISRAEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JUDGE ROTENBERG CENTER: Children who otherwise might blind themselves have been able to stop that behavior and become a much more normal life.

KAYE: Dr. Israel says he has treated 226 students on the GED. The 24/7 program costs taxpayers $213,000 per child each year.

(on camera): If you hadn't come here, what where would you be today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would be dead or in a hospital doped up on Thorazine.

KAYE (voice-over): The key to his credibility, he says, are students and parents. Inside his own colorful headquarters, Dr. Israel refused to speak to CNN without them, and his lawyers, staff, cameras, and recording devices.

(on camera): When you hear people or critics of this therapy say, this is like child abuse, this is inhumane, this is torture, does it make you all very angry?

(voice-over): These parents say their kids are the worst of the worst, head-bangers and biters, obsessive compulsives, out of control. A danger to themselves and others. That the GED, which is only administered with court and parental approval, saved their children's lives. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My daughter was punching herself constantly like that in her eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thank God for the GED.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She wouldn't be alive today.

KAYE: According to his medical records, Antwone could also be one scary kid. He stole things, hit people, tried to sexually assault a girl.

NICHOLSON: He's 17, but he's really in between the age of a 4 and a 5-year-old child. And he can't -- he really can't function, he can't think. And he's really constantly repeating himself.

KAYE: When Antwone first arrived at the center, Dr. Israel says he acted out constantly. Mouthing off got him a reprimand, physical aggression was punished with a zap. Dr. Israel says after many zaps that number dropped to near zero.

(on camera): Your mom told us that you told her it was very painful. Is that true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. It was painful.

KAYE (voice over): Dr. Israel says his treatment is also about rewards. Kids who behave well get treats and games. Bad behavior brings a single two-second skin shock.

(on camera): A student can wear up to five electrodes strapped to their arms and their legs. I strapped one here to my arm just to see how powerful the shock is. It's delivered with a remote control.

Oh! Oh, man! That hurts. That hurts.

(voice-over): What long-term harm or good prolonged treatment would have on a mentally handicapped teenager like Antwone is anyone's guess. His mother has ordered the treatment stopped.


KAGAN: And Randi Kaye, surviving her shock therapy, joins us from New York City. Randi, good morning.

KAYE: Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, we saw you shock yourself. How did it feel? It looked like it really hurt.

KAYE: It did really hurt. You know, Dr. Israel and the folks there at the center said that it would feel like a bee sting. And it felt like much worse than a bee sting. It only lasts for two seconds, but it felt like a constant bombardment of pin pricks on your arm. And I wasn't just being wimpy there. We actually put this on our camera crew, as well, two guys, and they felt the same pain. So it was pretty unbearable. I could see why it would stop these kids dead in their tracks. You lose all your muscle control. I couldn't move my arm at all anymore.

KAGAN: Yes. Just to be clear, Randi Kaye is no wimp.

KAYE: No. I'm not a wimp.

KAGAN: But we knew that. We knew that. Now do all the kids at this school get it, and is there a certain age classification?

KAYE: Well, the kids in the school range in age anywhere from five years old upwards, so there's -- about half of the kids, we're told, at that school, at the center, who are actually wearing the GED. And the kids who are five years old are getting shocked, as well. And it's one size fits all, Daryn. It's not a different set of voltage or a different level of voltage for the 5-year-olds versus the older kids.

KAGAN: It looks like there were plenty of families who believe in it. Is this school going to go on like this?

KAYE: Well, it looks like it will. But right now there's probably -- about 150 of the students who are at the center come from the state of New York. And right now, because of all the attention this is getting, the state of New York is considering actually banning this shock treatment on all the students that they send there. So the center won't close, but in a way, they could be forced out of business if these kids stop going there and if they can't administer this treatment.

KAGAN: And meanwhile, the young man who was featured so prominently in your piece, Antwone, what's his status?

KAYE: Well, right now his mom does want the therapy stopped and it has stopped. And Dr. Israel and the folks there are very concerned about that. Because when Antwone first arrived there, he had about 5,000 incidents of acting out per week. And when they started him on the GED, that dropped to zero. And now those incidents are picking up again. But his mother Evelyn tells us that she wants to find him somewhere else to live.

KAGAN: But so he's still there but not getting the shock therapy?

KAYE: Right. Correct.

KAGAN: Randi Kaye. Another fascinating piece from you, my friend.

KAYE: Thank you, Daryn.

KAGAN: Thank you.

Well, you got to be tough sometimes to be a cop. But sometimes when you save the day, you can get a little emotional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was holding back until she started crying. And then it came out. Being a father, you know, it came all out. You know, that macho stuff was out the window.


KAGAN: Yes, it was a big deal. A hero tells his story to CNN LIVE TODAY in just a bit.


KAGAN: Well, if you're a parent, you know, a lot of people don't pay much attention to what 7-year-olds have to say. Not the case with Autum Ashante. Her voice is not only being heard, her poetry is causing a fuss over race.

Our Jason Carroll set out to meet Autumn.


AUTUM ASHANTE:, 7-YEAR-OLD POET: I am misunderstood by many, yes, even my own.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most girls her age are still learning to read and write, but 7-year-old Autum A. ASHANTE: is recording her spoken word poetry C.D..

A. ASHANTE: I am the mighty black woman.

CARROLL: She has already performed at the Apollo Theater...

A. ASHANTE: I said, do not pollute our gardens, please.

CARROLL: ... and on Black Entertainment Television's Hurricane Katrina relief telethon.

A. ASHANTE: What have I done to be (INAUDIBLE)

CARROLL: Critics are calling her a child prodigy, praising her socially conscious poems, like the one about the controversial police shooting of a black immigrant in New York.

A. ASHANTE: They shot our brothers 41 times.

I like to be on stage. It's like my second home, or it's my house. It's my room.

CARROLL: Autum, it seemed, could do no wrong. So, why is she now defending herself from those who say she's a racist?

A. ASHANTE: That just doesn't make sense. I mean, I'm not a racist. And I'm very young to be a racist, wouldn't you say?

CARROLL: Autum has come under fire for her latest poem titled, "White Nationalism Put You in Bondage." She read it to students at a Peekskill, New York, middle school and high school. A. ASHANTE: I was kind of upset when I found out that they don't like the poem, because I don't get why they were being offended. It's the truth.

CARROLL: The offense, Autum referring to Christopher Columbus, Charles Darwin and Captain Henry Morgan as vampires.

A. ASHANTE: Pirates and vampires, like Columbus, Morgan and Darwin, drank the blood of the sleep, trampled all over them with steel, tricks and deceit.

CARROLL (on camera): What did you mean by that, because -- because I would like to know, in terms of referring to them as vampires?

A. ASHANTE: Because they robbed, raped, and murdered our people.

CARROLL (voice-over): Autum's attempt at raising black awareness did not end with just a poem. It began when she told all the black students in the multicultural audience to stand while she read the black child's pledge, which was originally created by a member of the Black Panthers.

She told all the white students that it wasn't for them, that they should sit down.

(voice-over): Alicia Putchee (ph), a junior at the high school, sat in the audience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a little shocking, at first, a 7- year-old telling us to sit down. And, then, it just -- it was just -- it was kind of rude. It was a little rude. It was. It made me angry.

CARROLL: The school superintendent sent apologies, after students and parents complained. She explained that Autum's poem and the black child's pledge had not been pre-approved.

JUDITH JOHNSON, SUPERINTENDENT, PEEKSKILL, NEW YORK, SCHOOLS: We're stunned by the fact that this is continuing to represent a story in newspapers and on television. It's not a story for us anymore.

CARROLL: But Autum continues to be the subject of editorials and radio talk shows.


GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: You want to go to Africa? I will personally purchase your airfare.


CARROLL: Several threatening blogs have surfaced, this one saying, "Someone will shut her little mouth, permanently."

Many of Autum's critics believe her father is behind her words. BATIN ASHANTE, FATHER OF AUTUM ASHANTE: Put your answer there.

CARROLL: Autum, who is homeschooled, says she wrote the poem after being inspired by a documentary. She included the black pledge after hearing about a fight between blacks and Latinos at the school. But school officials say there was no fight.

(on camera): If a white student stood up and said that this is for white students only...

B. ASHANTE: Under the circumstance, if it was under the same circumstance...

CARROLL: Let me finish the question. Let me finish the question.

(voice-over): Her father, Batin, just off camera, interrupted several times...

B. ASHANTE: Don't speak on that one.

CARROLL: ... saying he was being a protective parent.

B. ASHANTE: And I'm an offshoot of a soccer parent. We just do poetry and theater.

CARROLL: Ashante says he teaches his daughter, but does not tell her what to write.

(on camera): What do you teach Autum about tolerance?

B. ASHANTE: I don't -- we don't -- we -- tolerance is -- tolerance -- we are here with no power in America. We are tolerant.

CARROLL: Even people without power, though, can be intolerant.

B. ASHANTE: We're not intolerant. Of who? I -- I don't want you to take this story here and try to turn this thing into that she's being taught hate at home, because that's not what we're about here. We're spiritual beings.

CARROLL (voice-over): Though her subject matter is typically serious, not everything Autum recites is.

A. ASHANTE: Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Girls go to college to get more knowledge. Hey, girls.


CARROLL: She is, at times, a typical 7-year-old girl, prone to giggle fits...


CARROLL: ... except when it comes to defending her true love of poetry and her poem on white nationalism. A. ASHANTE: I'm going to continue saying that poem. Mostly, until I die, I'm going to keep saying that poem.

CARROLL: No matter how hard, she says, it is for some to hear it.

Jason Carroll, CNN, Peekskill, New York.


KAGAN: A story to lift your spirits just ahead. A hero. You have a choking baby and a nanny hit by a car, and this man, New York police officer Edgar Luisjuice (ph). We're gong to hear his story just ahead.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: We talked about economic development. Of course, I brought up energy to the president. He and I talked about the situation in the Nigerian Delta. He talked to me about his strategy to deal with the energy issue.

And finally, I appreciate the decision he made regarding Charles Taylor. In my visit last week with the president of Liberia, we talked about Charles Taylor.

The fact that Charles Taylor will be brought to justice in a court of law will help Liberia and is a signal, Mr. President, of your deep desire for there to be peace in your neighborhood.

So welcome to the Oval Office. It's good to have you here, sir.


And, as usual, I want to thank you for a warm and (INAUDIBLE) friend that you have (INAUDIBLE). The areas that I would call the areas of concern, by the time I arrived here last night seem to have been divinely dealt with by this morning, particularly the issue of Charles Taylor.

And as I said to you about a few minutes ago, Charles Taylor should be landing in Liberia by now, which should help in putting the issue of Charles Taylor behind all of us.

And I appreciate the understanding of everybody and the way that the issue has been handled.

I met the press earlier today to actually give what was our own position and how we were hoping to deal with the issue of Charles Taylor's disappearance.

And, of course, I do not agree (INAUDIBLE) that we have been negligent in the way we handled Charles Taylor issue. If we have been negligent, then Charles Taylor would have got away. He would not have been arrested if there is connivance or condonation on our part.

Now, having said that, we, of course, talked about the general situation of peace and security in the West African subregion. And how West African subregion, with Charles Taylor's issue put behind us, how West African subregion is gradually becoming a haven of peace.

We have dealt with Togo. We have dealt with Guinea- Bissau. We have dealt with Sierra Leone. Hopefully, we are now dealing with Liberia. And things seem to be going fairly well in Cote d'Ivoire.

Well, of course, we are keenly watching the situation in Kiniku Nagri (ph). Then we look at the rest of Africa, particularly Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Great Lakes generally.

Then we talk about the issue of development, particularly security, supply security, stability and also price stability of hydrocarbons from the Gulf of Guinea area and how we are working hard to establish a Gulf of Guinea commission that will also deal with the issue of reconciling and dealing with any misunderstanding among us and among countries that are in the Gulf of Guinea; how we can protect and how we monitor what happened in that area, because the hydrocarbon we need for our own development and we need for the economic development and progress of the world.

And we are moving in this regard not only by ourselves but also with our development partners.

Then, of course, we talk about NEPAD, which is where we work with G-8, collectively and individually.

And I briefed (ph) the president on what we are doing with the Niger Delta, which is very important. And we are very hopeful that the measures we are taking, which are essential socioeconomic measures to address some of the grievances -- identified grievances. We will resolve the issue of the Niger Delta.

I think these are some of the points. And I think, now, I want to thank the president for remaining his charming self.


BUSH: Thank you, sir.

Thank you.


KAGAN: We've been watching a videotape shot in the White House of President Bush and the president of Nigeria, President Obasanjo, as he comes to greet him. A lot of talk about Charles Taylor, the former head of Liberia, who had been in Nigeria, was trying to escape that country as well. He is wanted on war crimes, and he and his family were captured, trying to flee Nigeria at the border. He is now in custody on his way to Liberia. We have a lot more news ahead, including a great hero story. You're going to want to stay tuned for that. We'll get to it in just a minute.



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