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Electric Shock

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Position Statement of AAIDD

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) condemns the use of contingent electric shock and calls for the immediate elimination and permanent discontinuation of the use of electric shock as an intervention for the behavior of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

This position is supported by international organizations focused on human rights. In April 2010, when asked if the use of electric shock with students with disabilities constituted torture, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Torture said, "Yes . . . I have no doubts about it. It is inflicted in a situation where the victim is powerless.” In March 2013, a report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture determined that the use of electric shock as an intervention for the behavior of students with disabilities violates the UN Convention Against Torture and other international standards and called for it to be discontinued.

AAIDD supports the United States Food and Drug Administration’s intent to ban the use of electric skin shock devices “because they present an unreasonable and substantial risk to public health” and further agrees that “state-of-the-art behavioral treatments, such as positive behavioral support, and medications can enable health care providers to find alternative approaches for curbing self-injurious or aggressive behaviors” (FDA News Release, April 2016).

Aversive procedures, such as electric shock, may cause some or all of the following:

  • Physical pain;
  • Physical injury, tissue damage, physical illness, stress or trauma, and even death;
  • Dehumanization and/or humiliation through physical, verbal, social or other means; and/or
  • Temporary or permanent psychological or emotional harm.

Use of aversive procedures can also have serious negative effects on family members, individuals who provide supports to individuals with (IDD) and others who witness these events. 

AAIDD promotes positive behavior support (PBS) as the most appropriate and effective way to support people with IDD who exhibit challenging behavior.  Positive behavior support is a set of research-based strategies to increase an individual’s quality of life and decrease challenging behavior. This is accomplished by teaching the person new skills and making changes in their environment that facilitate success.  PBS begins with the individual and those who are important to them identifying and addressing the function of their behavior.  Careful attention is given to identifying the person’s strengths, building social and communication skills, and making changes to the situations and settings in which challenging behavior occurs.

People with IDD, including people with the most significantly challenging behavior, deserve respectful, humane support which increases self-determination and recognizes the fundamental human dignity of all persons. Contingent electric shock and other forms of aversives are never appropriate, ethical, or justifiable. AAIDD condemns their use in the strongest possible terms.


What is Positive Behavior Support? (n.d). In Association for Positive Behavior Support. Retrieved from

United States Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President. (2018). Final Ban on Electrical Stimulation Devices Used for Self-Injurious and Aggressive Behavior (Fall ed.).

O’Neill, RE, Albin, RW, Storey, K, Horner, RH & Sprague, JR. (2015). Functional Assessment and Program Development for Problem Behavior:  A Practical Handbook (3rd ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez. (2013). United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council.

United States Food and Drug Administration. (2016). FDA proposes ban on electrical stimulation devices intended to treat self-injurious or aggressive behavior [Press release]. Retrieved January 23, 2019, from


Board of Directors, AAIDD
February 5, 2019


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