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Original Minds

Inspirational film that shows a way to bring out the individual talents of five teenagers normally classified as learning disabled.

A printer-friendly version of this page 57 minutes
Closed Captioned

Directed by Tom Weidlinger
Produced by Moira Productions
Funded by the Lillian Lincoln Foundation

"The movie does the best job I have ever seen of taking people inside the minds of learning disabled children." Dr. Michael Thompson, Co-author, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys
Wounded by the stigma of being in "special ed" the five teenage protagonists of ORIGINAL MINDS struggle to articulate how their brains work.

Kerrigan is a deep thinker, often seeing connections between disparate ideas and concepts, but when it comes to telling you what you've just said he hasn't a clue.

When Nee Nee writes her fingers have a hard time keeping up with her thoughts.

People often get annoyed with Nattie because she doesn't know when to stop teasing and kidding around.

Marshall spends a lot of time in the bathroom, where his parents can't bug him about homework. He says he wants to "turn over a new leaf" but he's lost nine of his last fifteen math assignments.

Members of Deandré's family tell him he is not college material. He's determined to prove them wrong.

Parents, teachers, friends, therapists, and coaches all weigh in, sometimes with conflicting views, but it's the kids who become the experts in this film, as they work intensively with the filmmaker to tell their stories and discover that they are smarter than they thought. Their narratives reveal the unique approach to learning that each must discern and claim as his or her own if they are to succeed in the world. ORIGINAL MINDS eschews the confusing thicket of labels for learning disorders and reveals universal truths about how we all acquire and process information.

Other films by Tom Weidlinger are Boys Will Be Men, Swim for the River, The Long Walk to Freedom, Heart of the Congo, and A Dream in Hanoi.

Grade Level: 9-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2011     Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-915-1

"With each scene, viewers realize this is genuine. From the raw emotions of tears and frustration, to the joys of belonging and acceptance, we see the students take a measurable level of control over their own lives. More importantly, this film takes into account the students themselves and sees the world through their eyes...It breaks new ground in LD studies. Original Minds avoids the 'overcoming' theme in disability studies and presents LDs as differences, embraces them, works with them, understands and adapts to them. By doing so, it avoids the adversarial nature of overcoming and focuses on the frame of bettering oneself and one's community--a genuine goal for us all."
Craig A. Meyer, Ohio University, Disability Studies Quarterly

"A compelling first-person account by young people who reflect movingly on their experiences with learning disabilities. The film deftly avoids becoming just another attempt to package experts trying to explain learning disabilities, and keeps a laser-sharp focus on the experiences of these youngsters. Even the most experienced, perhaps dispirited, clinicians and educators will find their empathy strengthened, and maybe find that their sense of pride in the importance of their work has been rejuvenated. Those with learning disabilities and their families will welcome this reflection on their own lives, and that they are not alone."
Dr. Joseph Blader, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, State University of New York

"This is one of the most insightful and inspiring videos I have reviewed on learning and attention disorders in adolescents. It provides an exceptional insider's view of what it is like to have learning difficulties as described so well by these five teenagers. Through their case histories and in their own words one learns of their struggles to be understood, to be accepted, and to find pathways in life, often in nontraditional interests, in which they can capitalize on their talents and contribute to their own livelihoods and to society. I recommend this video highly for anyone seeking supplemental material to use in counseling students with learning disorders about their difficulties and to show them how others have been able to deal successfully with those disorders."
Dr. Russell A. Barkley, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina

"An important film for all educators and anyone interested in understanding individuals with learning disabilities. A few students in every classroom struggle daily with hidden brain-based disorders--perplexing, easy to misinterpret, frustrating to live with, and challenging for all. This important, insightful, highly recommended film enables viewers to better understand the world of kids with learning disabilities, what it takes to overcome the obstacles, and achieve success. The program the five featured teens participated in should be replicated in every high school--enabling students with LDs to become self-aware of their unique brain differences and effective strategies that work for them, and to capitalize upon their many strengths and talents to achieve their goals."
Sandra F. Rief, Educational Consultant, co-Author, The Dyslexia Checklist and How to Reach and Teach All Students in the Inclusive Classroom

"What if school were different? What if everyone had to first excel at art, dance, music and sports? If that were the case, these young people would not be disabled at all...Original Minds can be used in teacher preparation programs, for teachers professional development and among school administrators as a discussion point about what is worth knowing and the importance of developing strengths. The stories in this film provide valuable insight into the things that matter most in life: the unique gift that each of has to offer. I can think of 101 practical uses for this film as an educator."
Jenifer Fox, Leader of the Strengths Movement, Author, Your Child's Strengths, Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them

"As the title implies, the teens in this film have original ways of learning and perceiving the world. Viewers get a chance to experience the often frustrating and heartbreaking, but at times inspiring and exhilarating, world of youth who live in the maze of special education, as they come of age and learn to struggle, cope, and adapt. In its portraits of true individuals, it is a welcome antidote to textbook accounts of learning, emotional, and behavioral disorders."
Steven Hinshaw, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, UC Berkeley, Author, The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change, Co-author, The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today's Pressures

"Original Minds captures the voices and insights of five high school students with LD. While too many in this population are losing their academic battles and dropping out of school, the youth in this film have the empowering opportunity to study themselves, to deepen the self-understanding that is so critical to healthy adult adjustment. They poignantly articulate their struggles but also share their coping strategies and proudly recognize their gifts. They come to see that LD is only a piece of who they are; they are also athletes, dancers, poets, cooks, painters, composers - all trying to capture their strengths to help them cope with their challenges and successfully transition into adult life."
Dr. Arlyn Roffman, Professor, Department of Special Education, Lesley University, Author, Guiding Teens with Learning Disabilities: Navigating the Transition from High School to Adulthood

"Finally, a view into the minds and hearts of teens who are more often then not misunderstood. Original Minds allows us to feel what it's like to grow up struggling to be seen, heard, and appreciated for our differences and creativity. A must see for all who care about kids!"
Rona Renner, RN, temperament specialist, host of Childhood Matters radio show

"The media has, historically, had difficulty presenting 'learning problems' to the public. Nearly every approach has been tried: talking heads, cartoons, documentaries, dramas and scholarly treatises. But--despite these efforts--no project has allowed the viewer to see this problem through the eyes of kids. Enter Tom Weidlinger. Tom uses his unparalleled skills as a filmmaker to explain school difficulties in an empathic, sensitive and effective way...The most outstanding aspect of this project is the utter respect with which these students and their stories are handled...Kids go to school for a living--It's their job, their workplace. When a child struggles in school, this frustrations impacts on his self-esteem, attitudes, behavior and emotional health. The 'stars' of this program explain this in a unique and creative way. As I watched this program, there were several 'aha' moments as the students offered insights into their problems, their affinities, their attitudes and their feelings. Original Minds does not merely 'put a human face' on learning problems--it gives these struggles a heart and a soul."
Richard Lavoie, Author, It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

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DVD Features
Include profiles of each of the five main protagonists, a Discussion Guide in PDF format, closed captioning, and scene selection.

The film's website

Awards and Festivals
Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Western Psychological Association Film Festival
American Psychological Association Convention
United Nations Association Film Festival

Alternative Education
At-risk Youth
Behavioral Science
Learning Disabilities
Mental Health
Social Psychology
Special Education

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... more Reviews

"The movie does the best job I have ever seen of taking people inside the minds of learning disabled children. Instead of having adults talk about LD kids, the children to speak for themselves; it makes the movie pretty special, even magical. I loved how the story moved past the children's disabilities to their strengths, and showed them at their best."
Dr. Michael Thompson, Co-author, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

"What a good and useful film for educators and parents. By the end, I was deeply involved with these young peoples' future, their hopes and aspirations, and the tremendous support and encouragement they received."
Summer Brenner, Author, Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco and Richmond Tales, Lost Secrets of the Iron Triangle (forthcoming)

"Original Minds opens up the lives of high school students with learning disabilities. This riveting documentary is essential viewing for educators, parents, teens with learning issues, and all of us who care about them."
Beth Samuelson, Founder and Director, Student Organizational Services (SOS)

"Original minds paints a poignant and thought-provoking portrait of what it's like to learn in ways different from those valued and supported in typical classrooms...provocative and inspiring...The take-away message of the film--all people are, first and most importantly, individuals."
Journal of Educational Controversy

"Original Minds depart[s] from the traditional analysis of disability by empowering people with disabilities to reveal their own experiences and actualities of their lives in a visual way...The strengths and weaknesses of the five students vary even though each is classified as a person with a learning disability--this diversity shows that learning disabilities are not homogeneous, as each possesses an 'original mind.' The film...captures the notion that focusing on the students' abilities is as important as identifying their disabilities and that there is not one formula to address their challenges."
Thomas Horejes, Gallaudet University, Teaching Sociology

"The stories of these five teens are inspiring and uplifting. In turn, each student takes the audience into their internal world as they understand it. The difficulties, differences, and disabilities are not sugar-coated. But neither are they catastrophized. It is as if, in the telling of their stories, the students discover their strengths...This would be an excellent film for students who are studying to become educators, psychologists, or counselors. The film would also serve as an encouragement to high school students and their parents experiencing similar kinds of challenges. Recommended."
Jane Scott, George Fox University, Educational Media Reviews Online

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