From the time he was little, Adam Lanza couldn’t bear to be touched. By middle school, the chaos and noise of large, bustling classrooms began to upset him. At 20 just before the Newtown shootings, he was isolated and the world would later learn, disturbed.
Before the age of 6 Lanza had been diagnosed with a controversial condition, “sensory integration disorder” — now known as sensory processing disorder.
“The most surprising thing for me was this sort of inwardness of Adam, a world view of someone that was afraid of the world,” said Frank Koughan. “He just reacted badly to the whole world and didn’t want to be part of it. He was not some violent monster except on one particular day, when he was exceedingly monstrous.
An investigative team interviewed family and friends of the shooter’s parents, Nancy and Peter Lanza, and reviewed a decade’s worth of messages and emails from his mother to close friends describing her son’s socially awkward behavior.
“Adam was a quiet kid. He never said a word,” Marvin LaFontaine, a friend of Nancy Lanza, told them. “There was a weirdness about him and Nancy warned me once at one of the Scout meetings… ‘Don’t touch Adam.’ She said he just can’t stand that. He’d become teary-eyed and I think he would run to his mother.
In 1998, the Lanzas left their home in New Hampshire for Connecticut with Adam, who had already been diagnosed with the sensory disorder and was “coded” with an individual education plan, according to a family member.
Lanza didn’t recognize pain, another feature of some types of SPD. He couldn’t cope with loud noses, confusion or change, which would cause him to “shut down.”
“He’d almost go into a catatonic kind of state, which is another reason why in hindsight, he didn’t seem like a threat to anybody,” said Koughan. “He didn’t lash out or beat up kids. He went within himself, until one day, he didn’t.”
In middle school, according to an interview with Richard Novia, who served as security chief for Newtown schools and advised the tech club, Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a part of the autism spectrum. Novia told Nancy Lanza, he worried about the boy being bullied.
His mother took him out of high school his sophomore year and lost his peer support and special needs psychologist and became more isolated. Police found thousands of dollars worth of violent video games in the family home.
Lanza’s parents separated in 2001 and divorced in 2009. He eventually became estranged from his father, Peter Lanza and brother Ryan. His mother, who loved to travel, was spending more time away from their home to foster her son’s independence.
He dropped out of Western Connecticut State University where he had taken some classes.