At a coffee shop in TriBeCa one morning two weeks ago, David Minh Wong, age 7, was in constant motion. He played with quarters on the table. He dropped them on the floor. He leaned on his mother and walked away.
"Tell him I'm strong," he said to his mother, Yolanda Badillo, 50. She sat in a booth with a neighbor, who was there with her goddaughter.
"I woke up at 2:16 this morning, and it wasn't raining," he said.
"I'm getting bored," he said.
At David's public school, where he is in a program for gifted and talented second graders, a teacher told Ms. Badillo that he is arrogant for a boy his age, and teachers since preschool have described him as bright but sometimes disruptive. But Ms. Badillo, a homeopath and holistic health counselor, has her own assessment. To her David's traits - his intelligence, empathy and impatience - make him an "indigo" child.
"He told me when he was 6 months old that he was going to have trouble in school because they wouldn't know where to fit him," she said, adding that he told her this through his energy, not in words. "Our consciousness is changing, it's expanding, and the indigos are here to show us the way," Ms. Badillo said. "We were much more connected with the creator before, and we're trying to get back to that connection."
If you have not been in an alternative bookstore lately, it is possible that you have missed the news about indigo children. They represent "perhaps the most exciting, albeit odd, change in basic human nature that has ever been observed and documented," Lee Carroll and Jan Tober write in "The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived" (Hay House). The book has sold 250,000 copies since 1999 and has spawned a cottage industry of books about indigo children.
Hay House said it has sold 500,000 books on indigo children. A documentary, "Indigo Evolution," is scheduled to open on about 200 screens - at churches, yoga centers, college campuses and other places - on Jan. 27 (locations at www.spiritualcinemanetwork.com).
Indigo children were first described in the 1970's by a San Diego parapsychologist, Nancy Ann Tappe, who noticed the emergence of children with an indigo aura, a vibrational color she had never seen before. This color, she reasoned, coincided with a new consciousness.
In "The Indigo Children," Mr. Carroll and Ms. Tober define the phenomenon. Indigos, they write, share traits like high I.Q., acute intuition, self-confidence, resistance to authority and disruptive tendencies, which are often diagnosed as attention-deficit disorder, known as A.D.D., or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D.
Offered as a guide for "the parents of unusually bright and active children," the book includes common criticisms of today's child rearing: that children are overmedicated; that schools are not creative environments, especially for bright students; and that children need more time and attention from their parents. But the book seeks answers to mainstream parental concerns in the paranormal.
"To me these children are the answers to the prayers we all have for peace," said Doreen Virtue, a former psychotherapist for adolescents who now writes books and lectures on indigo children. She calls the indigos a leap in human evolution. "They're vigilant about cleaning the earth of social ills and corruption, and increasing integrity," Ms. Virtue said. "Other generations tried, but then they became apathetic. This generation won't, unless we drug them into submission with Ritalin."
To skeptics the concept of indigo children belongs in the realm of wishful thinking and New Age credulity. "All of us would prefer not to have our kids labeled with a psychiatric disorder, but in this case it's a sham diagnosis," said Russell Barkley, a research professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. "There's no science behind it. There are no studies."
Dr. Barkley likened the definition of indigo children to an academic exercise called "Barnum statements," after P. T. Barnum, in which a person is given a list of generic psychological characteristics and becomes convinced that they apply especially to him or her. The traits attributed to indigo children, he said, are so general that they "could describe most of the people most of the time," which means that they don't describe anything.
Parents who attribute their children's inattention or disruptive behavior to vibrational energy, he said, risk delaying proper diagnosis and treatment that might help them.
To indigos and their parents, however, such skepticism is the usual resistance to any new and revolutionary idea. America has always had a soft spot for the supernatural. A November 2005 poll by Harris Interactive found that one American in five believes he or she has been reincarnated; 40 percent believe in ghosts; 68 percent believe in angels. It is not surprising then that indigo literature, which incorporates some of these beliefs along with common anxieties about child psychology, has found a receptive audience.
Annette Piper, a mother of two in Memphis, said that she had planned to go to medical school until she realized she was an indigo, able to tell what was wrong with people by touching them. Like a lot of others who describe themselves as indigos, she was also sensitive to chemicals and fluorescent lights. Instead of going to medical school, she became an intuitive healer, directing the energy fields around people, and opened a New Age store called Spiritual Freedom.
Her daughter Alexandra, 10, is also an indigo, she said. They play games to cultivate their telepathic powers, but at school Alexandra struggles, Ms. Piper said. "She has trouble finishing work in school and wants to argue with the teacher if she thinks she's right," Ms. Piper said. "I don't think she's found out what her gifts are. From the influence in school and friends she lays off these abilities. She's a little afraid of them."
Problems in school are common for indigos, said Alex Perkel, who runs the ReBirth Esoteric Science Center in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a bilingual (Russian-English) center dedicated to "the knowledge of ancient esoteric schools and Eastern science," according to its Web site (www.esotericinfo.com).
Last year the center organized a class for indigo children but canceled it when families dropped out for economic reasons.
"A lot of people don't understand the children because the children are very smart," Mr. Perkel said. "They have knowledge like our teachers. They don't want to go to school, No. 1, because they don't need the knowledge they can get from school. So parents bring them to psychologists, and psychologists start giving them pills to take out their will and memory. We developed a special program to help them understand that they came to this planet to change the consciousness because they have guides from a higher world."
Stephen Hinshaw, a professor and the chairman of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, acknowledged that "there is a legitimate concern that we are overmedicalizing normal childhood, particularly with A.D.H.D." But, he said, research shows that even gifted children with attention-deficit problems do better with more structure in the classroom, not less.
"If you conduct a very open classroom, kids with A.D.H.D. may fit in better, because everyone's running around, but there's no evidence that it helps children with A.D.H.D. learn. On the other hand if you have a more traditional classroom, with consistent tasks and expectations and rewards, kids with A.D.H.D. may have a harder time fitting in at first, but in the long run there's evidence that it helps their learning."
Julia Tuchman, a partner in Neshama Healing in Manhattan, who works with a lot of indigo children and adults, said it was important for their families not to turn away from traditional psychology and medicine.
"I'm very holistically oriented, but many people who come here I send to doctors," she said. "I'm not against medication at all. I just think it's overused." When parents take children to her for treatment - she practices electromagnetic field balancing, a touch-free massage that purports to tune a person's electromagnetic field - she said that just telling the children that they have special gifts is often a healing gesture.
"Can you imagine a child going up to his parents and saying, 'I'm talking to an angel,' or 'I'm talking to someone who's deceased'?" Ms. Tuchman asked. "A lot of them have no one to talk to." She, like others who see indigos, sees them as a reason for hope.
Even disruptive behavior has a purpose, said Marjorie Jackson, a tai chi and yoga teacher in Altadena, Calif., who said that her son, Andrew, is an indigo. Andrew, now 25, was not disruptive as a child, she said, but in her practice she sees indigos who are.
"The purpose of the disruptive ones is to overload the system so the school will be inspired to change," Ms. Jackson said. "The kids may seem like they have A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. What that is, is that the stimulus given to them, their inner being is not interested in it. But if you give them something that harmonizes with the broad intention that their inner self has for them, they won't be disruptive."
She said that schools should treat children more like adults, rather than placing them in "fear-based, constrictive, no-choice environments, where they explode."
Ms. Jackson compared people who do not recognize indigos to Muggles, the name used by J. K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books to describe ordinary people who have no connection with magic. "I would say 90 percent of the world is like the Muggles," she said. "You don't talk about this stuff with them because it's going to scare them."
In the TriBeCa coffee shop, David Minh Wong continued to play with his coins and talk to his mother. Ms. Badillo and her neighbor Sandra McCoy said they have family members who don't believe in the indigo idea. Ms. McCoy sat with her goddaughter, Jasmine Washington, 14. In contrast to David, Jasmine listened serenely, waiting for questions.
Yet Jasmine too is an indigo child, Ms. McCoy said: "I always knew there was something different about her. Then when I saw something about indigos on television, I knew what it was." Like many other indigos Jasmine is home-schooled.
For Jasmine, who often sensed she was different from other children, especially in the public schools, the designation of indigo is a comfort.
"The kids now are very different, so it's good that there's a name for it, and people pay attention to what's different about them," Jasmine said. Like the women at the table she said that indigos have a special purpose: "To help the world come together again. If something bad happens, I always think I can fix it. Since we have these abilities, we can help the world."