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Misunderstood Minds
Stories from the Documentary:
Nathan V. Lauren Sarah Lee Adam Nathan S.
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 Adam  His teachers kept saying that he was a good kid, just lazy.

Adam's Story


As a young child, Adam Dunning showed unlimited potential; he was well liked by his peers, teachers, and coaches. As early as second grade, his parents realized he couldn't read simple words, but a specific problem wasn't identified. Adam's teachers said he was a good kid, just a lazy student. In reality, Adam was struggling to read -- a serious learning problem that would only be recognized years later.

In the fifth grade, Adam's problems prompted a battery of tests that may have revealed specific language-related difficulties, but in the end -- with his strengths and weaknesses combined -- they suggested that Adam was an average student. But Adam knew there was a problem; he compared himself to his friends who had no trouble reading, and he didn't feel he was even average.

Again in the seventh grade, Adam's parents requested more tests, and the news was devastating: Adam was reading on a third-grade level. He was placed in a resource room, but the room was isolated in the school's basement, and the reasons for placement there ranged from learning problems to violence to mental illness. Adam showed no improvement. In the meantime, he got kicked off the basketball team for not being able to maintain the required grade point average.

By the ninth grade, Adam's reading difficulty meant that his schoolwork was well beyond his ability. Frustrated, angry, and described as a behavior problem, Adam stopped going to school. Eventually, he turned to drugs and alcohol. Adam's parents took him to the Boston Medical Center, where clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Weiss gave Adam a new series of tests, revealing a long-standing difficulty decoding words that manifested itself in reading problems in all subjects, and spread into his writing and spelling. Adam was now years beyond the early intervention measures that learning specialists typically recommend.

By this time, too, Adam's parents were struggling not only with their son's learning problems, but also his drug, alcohol, and behavioral problems. The next year saw Adam in and out of court, a psychiatric ward, and finally, in a juvenile detention center.

To everyone's surprise, Adam did well in the classes he took at the detention center. For the first time he got the help he needed, looked forward to school, and showed signs of improvement. When he was released and returned to his old school, Adam was placed in special education classes. The results were mixed, and ultimately proved to be too little, too late.

The next year, Adam was expelled for behavioral problems. Without a high school diploma, his job options were limited; he lived at home and worked a variety of odd jobs. In March of 2002, Adam was among those arrested when a party turned violent. With continually readjusted expectations for their son, Adam's parents cling to the only thing they see available: hope.

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