Bobby is seven years old, but this is not the first time he has been subjected to electroshock. It’s his third time. In all, over the next year, Bobby will experience eight electroshock sessions. Placed on the examining table, he is held down by two male attendants while the physician places a solution on his temples. Bobby struggles with the two men holding him down, but his efforts are useless. He cries out and tries to pull away. One of the attendants tries to force a thick wedge of rubber into his mouth. He turns his head sharply away and cries out, “Let me go, please. I don’t want to be here. Please, let me go.” Bobby’s physician looks irritated and she tells him, “Come on now, Bobby, try to act like a big boy and be still and relax.” Bobby turns his head away from the woman and opens his mouth for the wedge that will prevent him from biting through his tongue. He begins to cry silently, his small shoulders shaking and he stiffens his body against what he knows is coming.
Mary is only five years old. She sits on a small, straight-backed chair, moving her legs back and forth, humming the same four notes over and over and over. Her head, framed in a tangled mass of golden curls, moves up and down with each note. For the first three years of her life, Mary was thought to be a mostly normal child. Then, after she began behaving oddly, she had been handed off to a foster family. Her father and mother didn’t want her any longer. She had become too strange for her father, whose alcoholism clouded any awareness of his young daughter. Mary’s mother had never wanted her anyway and was happy to have her placed in another home. When the LSD Mary has been given begins to have its effects, she stops moving her head and legs and sits staring at the wall. She doesn’t move at all. After about ten minutes, she looks at the nearby physician observing her, and says, “God isn’t coming back today. He’s too busy. He won’t be back here for weeks.”
From early 1940 to 1953, Dr. Lauretta Bender, a highly respected child neuropsychiatrist practicing at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, experimented extensively with electroshock therapy on children who had been diagnosed with “autistic schizophrenia.” In all, it has been reported that Bender administered electroconvulsive therapy to at least 100 children ranging in age from three years old to 12 years, with some reports indicating the total may be twice that number. One source reports that, inclusive of Bender’s work, electroconvulsive treatment was used on more than 500 children at Bellevue Hospital from 1942 to 1956, and then at Creedmoor State Hospital Children’s Service from 1956 to 1969. Bender was a confident and dogmatic woman, who bristled at criticism, oftentimes refused to acknowledge reality even when it stood starkly before her.
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