Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 09:31 PM
SOUTHBURY, Conn. — At Newtown High School, Adam Lanza had trouble relating to fellow students and teachers, but that was only part of his problem. He seemed not to feel physical or psychological pain in the same way as classmates.
Richard Novia, the school district's head of security until 2008, who also served as adviser for the school technology club, said Lanza clearly "had some disabilities."
"If that boy would've burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically," Novia said in a phone interview. "It was my job to pay close attention to that."
He recalled meeting with school-guidance counselors, administrators and with the teen's mother, Nancy Lanza, to understand his problems and find ways to ensure his safety. But there were others crises only a mother could solve.
"He would have an episode, and she'd have to return or come to the high school and deal with it," Novia said, describing how the teen would sometimes withdraw completely "from whatever he was supposed to be doing," whether it was sitting in class or reading a book.
A law-enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. People with the disorder tend to function poorly socially but can be highly intelligent.
If he did have the syndrome, his lack of sensation could be related to the disorder, said psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA. People with the syndrome can be overly sensitive to things like touch, noise and pain, or sometimes undersensitive, she said.
In their teen years, Adam and his older brother, Ryan, were both members of the tech club, which offered students a chance to work on computers, videotape school events and produce public-access broadcasts.
The club gave Lanza a place where he could indulge his interest in computers, Novia said. His anxieties appeared to ease somewhat. Still, when people approached him in the hallways, he would press himself against the wall or walk in a different direction.
"The behavior would be more like an 8-year-old who refuses to give up his teddy bear," Novia said.