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02/15/2013

The ongoing diagnosis of Adam Lanza

Lanza
The names of Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza are attached to candy at a memorial to the Newtown shooting victims in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Two months after the tragic Newtown shootings, new information has emerged about the early childhood struggles of Adam Lanza -- according to a joint investigation by the Hartford Courant and PBS Frontline, he was diagnosed as a child with something called Sensory Integration Disorder.

Several reports in the wake of the tragedy have speculated on whether Lanza had any mental disabilities or disorders -- a discussion that has been problematic at best.

This new information is likely to further complicate the discussion. Sensory Integration Disorder -- also called Sensory Processing Disorder -- is not a recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders and pediatric neurologists are divided on whether it's an actual disorder.

But according to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation -- which is fighting to have the disorder added to the updated version of the DSM -- the disorder can be likened to a neurological "traffic jam" where the brain fails to receive the necessary information to correctly interpret sensory information.

The foundation claims that if left untreated, a person with the disorder could suffer from "motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts."

In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, Hartford Courant reporter Alaine Griffin explained that Lanza was "resistant to any type of touching."

"He had been diagnosed very early with something called Sensory Integration Disorder," she said. "And what that essentially did is... he wasn't able to guide touch and smell and sight. He wasn't able to, sort of, process things to do with his senses. And we learn that Nancy was very sad at the fact that he couldn't love her back."

Frontline and the Hartford Courant also interviewed a former acquaintance of Nancy Lanza's, whose son was autistic and in the same Grade 1 class as Adam.

"Nancy was concerned about Adam," she said. "He was shy, a little withdrawn, quiet. She was was worried that perhaps he had some kind of neurobiological condition."

The Harford Courant will publish its investigative report on Sunday and Frontline will air its documentary on Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Jennifer Yang is the Toronto Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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