Psychologist Dr. Matthew Clark is the head of the Crawthorne State Training Institute, one of the first boarding schools for developmentally challenged children. Dr. Clark is sympathetic but demanding of his teachers and students. His approach of tough love is controversial. He takes a chance at hiring former aspiring concert pianist Jean Hansen as the school's music teacher, Miss Hansen who has no background in nursing, teaching or dealing with the developmentally challenged. She herself is trying to find her own place in life. She immediately bonds with autistic student Reuben Widdicombe, who she sees as needing special attention in light of his parents having not visited him since they enrolled him in the school two years earlier. The Widdicombes divorced shortly thereafter because of the pressures their relationship faced in dealing with Reuben. Dr. Clark sees Reuben as the type of child the most difficult with which to deal: Reuben understands just enough to realize that he is different and is often being rejected. Miss Hansen and Dr. Clark disagree on how best to get through to Reuben. Although Dr. Clark admits that his methods have not worked with Reuben, he also does not believe that Miss Hansen's approach of undivided attention is the answer. Through getting to know the Widdicombe's reasons for not visiting and she herself seeing the life of the adult disabled, Miss Hansen comes to an understanding of how she feels she can best help her students, Reuben included.