Academically-gifted youth, such as Adam Lanza has been described, sometimes have emotional challenges that are called "twice exceptional," which cause them to channel their power for great good or for mighty tragedy.
In some cases, academic intelligence is not necessarily connected to the capacity for emotional or social intelligence, and there may be heartbreaking internal disconnects. This may build a tragic road, perhaps strewn with experiences of withdrawal, alienation, loneliness and rejection. No one understands, wants to get to know or can reach this child. And that does not mean some don't try. It means that no one succeeds. Eventually, the youth may express the unspoken, unattended, and disconnected feelings.
"Lanza was said by classmates to be fiercely intelligent," reported the Telegraph. "You could tell he was, I would say, a genius," said Beth Israel (neighbor and mother of Adam's classmate). "There was something that was above the rest of us."
I have been haunted by an interview I did several years ago with F. Richard Olenchak, the past president of the National Association of Gifted Children, as part of a DVD I produced on The Misdiagnosis of Gifted Children.
"After we conducted a study (of school violence over a period of time), we concluded that over 80 percent of violence in schools were, in fact, perpetrated by gifted and talented children," stated Dr. Olenchak in the DVD.
Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted Children (SENG) is an organization that understands the brightest children in our nation not only require a curriculum that challenges their level of giftedness, but they also often need support for very specific emotional challenges that accompany their gifts. Pediatric neuropsychologists who specialize in giftedness are in the best position to offer diagnosis, counseling and support.
In the media, Lanza is being tagged with specious diagnoses, including Asperger's syndrome, autism and sociopathy, though no one has proffered any assessment that would validate these labels. More than 10 million children are labeled "learning disordered" (and that is considered a low estimate).
These diagnoses are often haphazard and done by physicians who have no background in this kind of assessment. This situation cannot be addressed by more drugs, as drugs may be the very reason for violence. This epidemic cannot be solved by more guns to "protect our children's safety." Adam Lanza shot his way into the school through a window, not a front door guarded by X-rays and security guards, as some have suggested as solutions.
With the help of professionals who understand that sometimes being intellectually-gifted comes with an emotional price, we need to grow a map of reality that includes reaching out to children who seem unreachable. If we taught life skills -- emotional and social intelligence -- in all schools, then parents of kids like Lanza wouldn't have to fight school districts about conformity or lack thereof, but could be supported by being directed to appropriate resources, whether within or outside the school.
I work with children who are intuitively gifted and their parents. These children can be the marginalized of the marginalized. Their gifts are often misdiagnosed as learning disordered, yet they are able to pay far more attention to the subtleties of their environment than the professionals that are determining their diagnosis and treatment.
We must grow to notice what is invisible, honor it and support it -- whether it is the giftedness of spiritually- and intuitively-intelligent children, or the absence of emotional and social intelligence in academically-gifted children.
In any case, let's send prayers and healing intention to both the victims of this tragedy as well as to those who are tragically marginalized and/or emotionally unreachable in our society.