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Misunderstood Minds
Stories from the Documentary:
Nathan V. Lauren Sarah Lee Adam Nathan S.
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 Nathan VanHoy  The boy who said he loved books couldn't really read.

Nathan VanHoy's Story


Nathan VanHoy's parents had little doubt that he would excel in school. His love of books, curious mind, strong verbal skills, and outgoing nature made him a leader among his friends. But, early into the first grade, Nathan was struggling in school. Testing clearly showed that he had quickly fallen behind his classmates, but Nathan's parents had trouble reconciling his low test scores with his obvious verbal ability.

Nathan's ability to memorize entire books helped him keep up at times. However, it also helped mask a serious problem: Nathan couldn't really read. Reluctantly, his parents accepted the school's suggestion to have Nathan repeat the first grade. But at the beginning of second grade, Nathan fell behind again.

In the fall of 1998, his parents consulted Dr. Mel Levine, who diagnosed Nathan with a phonemic awareness problem -- an inability to innately distinguish between the different letter sounds that form words. For children like Nathan, decoding individual letters and their sounds is so laborious and exhausting that by the time they reach the end of a word or sentence, they can't comprehend what they have just read.

Better informed about the nature of Nathan's difficulties, his parents faced a new and difficult dilemma: Should Nathan go into a full-time resource room -- isolated from his friends and social successes? Or stay in the mainstream, isolated from the help he desperately needed?

Nathan was placed in the school's resource room, where he continued to struggle, but ultimately made significant advances over the next two years. Dr. Levine's recommendations for Nathan -- at home and at school -- included a series of tasks and strategies that tapped his strong verbal skills to help compensate for his difficulty reading. By redefining Nathan's learning approach, his parents and teachers were also able to redefine a measure of success.

His progress, with continued support, will likely involve a series of small gains and setbacks, but overall Nathan appears to be moving forward. At the end of the fourth grade, he was given the standard test -- with some accommodations -- to see if he could go on to the fifth grade. He was one of only four students in his school to achieve a perfect score.

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