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A handicapped girl called Grandma Chandra, for example, presents psychic readings at Beloved Community conferences using an alphabet board or mental telepathy for a fee, according to Anderson. A similar service is offered through a handicapped boy from Japan named Koya, Anderson says.
Twyman's not the only one making money off indigos, Anderson says, and he's not the only one who may have used misleading tactics to do so. Doreen Virtue, the California-based psychotherapist who wrote The Care and Feeding of Indigos and has known Twyman for 10 years, claims to have a Ph.D., but the school she got it from, California Coast University, was not accredited when she attended and is widely considered a diploma mill, meaning it has no physical campus and offers degrees for a flat fee. Virtue also says she worked at two psychiatric hospitals, one in Tennessee and the other in the Bay Area, but both hospitals have been closed for years, making it difficult to verify her claims.
"I notice that many New Age believers respond to misrepresentations as Oprah did when she first heard about James Frey's fictionalized memoir--the message 'resonated' with her deeply and rang true, and that made it OK," Anderson says. "Still, just like Oprah came around to value honesty, hearing about fabrications among leaders of the new child movement will turn off at least some believers, as well as people who just don't know what to make of it all."
What worries Anderson most is that Twyman's ideas are spreading. The Beloved Community now offers a seminary program that can be completed over three months through Internet classes and conference calls or in one month through intensive study at the Beloved Community. Tuition starts at $3,000. Once seminarians are ordained they can go on to pursue a master's degree or a doctorate in divinity for an additional fee. Upon graduation, Twyman suggests ministers can work with indigo and psychic children.
One of the 100 or so people enrolled in the seminary is Karla Bass, the woman who first recognized the indigo traits in Dusk.
Ultimately, the amount of money people like Twyman and Virtue make from the indigo phenomenon, and the possibly deceptive means they use to do it, might not matter. What is truly dangerous about the indigo theory, experts say, is its implications for children, especially those with ADD or ADHD. Parents who buy into it could be putting their kids at risk, delaying proper diagnosis and treatment.
"All of us would prefer not to have our kids labeled with a psychiatric disorder, but in this case it's a sham diagnosis," Russell Barkley, a research professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center, recently told The New York Times. "There's no science behind it. There are no studies."
The traits attributed to indigo children, Barkley said, are so general they "could describe most of the people most of the time." In Virtue's book, for example, 17 traits common to indigos are listed. Children who respond positively to at least 14 of them are likely indigo. Listed traits include a strong will, creativity and a desire "to help the world in a big way." Indigos are also proud, independent, look for lasting friendships and bore easily.
Such a broad definition, Barkley told the Times, reminded him of an academic exercise called "Barnum statements," after P.T. Barnum, in which a person becomes convinced a list of generic psychological characteristics apply especially to him or her.
Nick Colangelo, a University of Iowa professor who specializes in the education of gifted and talented students, first heard about the phenomenon in 2003 at a conference in Reno. On the flight home, he read the first indigo book, which he later said never should have been published. "The implicit message is that these children know more than adults, cannot be controlled by adults and are going to bring on a new world order," Colangelo wrote in an op-ed piece for the Davidson Institute, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit dedicated to gifted and talented students. "...The indigo children movement is not about children, and it is not about the color indigo. It is about adults who style themselves as experts and who are making money on books, presentations and videos."
Both Virtue and Twyman have acknowledged that there is no hard science to prove their theory, but that doesn't mean it isn't true, they say. The idea is catching on, Virtue says, because it resonates with people. Some are adults who never fit in but didn't know why. Others are parents frustrated by an increasingly fast-paced society that seems to have lost its moorings.
"We have overcrowded classrooms, gym classes being cut and a lot of schools selling fast food as lunch, so the conditions are ripe for hyperactivity. Students are being sent to the psychologist's office and almost automatically medicated," Virtue says. "Parents are looking for an alternative, and the indigo work provides that."