Here’s a hypothetical scenario for you to consider:
You have a child, let’s say a ninth-grader, who has significant psychological problems. You’re well off enough that you can take your child to Yale University Child Study Center for an extensive assessment.
The Yale therapists and doctors come up with a three-part plan: your child should take medication for some of his problems, he should get extensive special education support and he should have ongoing expert consultation.
Which of the following responses would you likely choose?
:: Yes, let’s proceed with all parts of that plan.
:: Let me think about it, maybe get another opinion, and I’ll get back with you.
:: Nah. I think we’ll just keep going along like we have been.
I would think the vast majority of parents would select option one, a small percentage would go with two, and less than one percent would go with three.
Well, according to a study released in recent days, Nancy Lanza, the mother of Adam Lanza, opted for No. 3 a few years before Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
And not only did Nancy Lanza decide against treatment for her son, she maintained an arsenal of unsecured weapons and ammunition and continued to cultivate his interest in guns and shooting. In fact, one of her last indulgences was to give him a Christmas gift card to buy a weapon.
He didn’t get a chance to buy another weapon and apparently didn’t need to, for on Dec. 14, 2012, he went on the rampage that took the lives of 20 children and six staff members.
His mother didn’t act, even though, at the end, the two were communicating by email. He hadn’t seen his father in two years. Also, in addition to his mental problems, he apparently suffered from anorexia — he was 6 feet tall and weighed 112 pounds — and, in the words of a doctor who helped write the new report, he had become “disconnected not just from other people, but from his own body.”
What can you say to all of that?
You can say this, for sure: Nancy Lanza — whom Adam shot to death just before departing for the school — was a totally irresponsible parent. She did her son, herself and the world a terrible disservice by not getting him professional help…not to mention rethinking the wisdom of having a bunch of unsecured weapons around the house.
The new report was the subject of news stories in many papers on Saturday, including The New York Times. The Times’ story said the 114-page report was produced by a panel convened by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate. Officials who worked on the report spoke at a news conference on Friday.
The Times quoted Dr. Harold Schwartz, chief psychiatrist at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, as saying of Adam Lanza:
“It’s not that his mental illness was a predisposing factor in this tragedy. It was his untreated mental illness that was a predisposing factor.”
That is a chilling assessment, isn’t it? Certainly, some people who have been getting treatment for mental illness have gone over the edge and killed innocent people, but obviously the chances of a disturbed person acting out on his deranged impulses are much reduced if he is getting good, professional treatment.
The authors of the report went a step further, however; they also faulted the school system for failing to adequately monitor Adam Lanza’s educational and emotional progress. School system administrators’ decision to let him receive his education in a “homebound” environment increased his sense of isolation and made him more prone to the violence that he fantasized about online, the report said.
Dr. Julian Ford, another author of the report, said: “He was losing a sense of other people as human beings.”
In a sense, Nancy Lanza and school system administrators laid the foundation for Adam Lanza’s irrational boil-over. The price that was paid for the failure to get him the psychological and educational support that he desperately needed was mind boggling.
Let’s hope that some other parents who have been minimizing the extent of their children’s problems and rationalizing their decisions not to get them professional help will read about this report and heed its sobering lessons.