It tells the story of a seven-year-old child prodigy, Fred Tate (Adam Hann-Byrd), who struggles to self-actualize in a social and psychological construct that largely fails to accommodate his intelligence. Foster plays Fred's mother Dede Tate, who attempts to give her son a "normal" childhood while feeding his intellectual curiosity.
Dede Tate (Jodie Foster) is a single mother, a working-class woman of average intelligence raising her seven-year-old son, Fred (Adam Hann-Byrd), who shows every indication of being a genius. Fred's reading and mathematics abilities are remarkable, and he plays the piano "at competition level," but his intellect isolates him from his public school classmates.
Fred's intellect comes to the attention of Jane Grierson (Diane Wiest), a former music prodigy and now a psychologist running a school for gifted children. She seeks permission from Dede to admit Fred to the school in order to develop his intellectual gifts in a way that a public school cannot. Dede is reluctant, preferring that Fred have a normal upbringing but when no one comes to Fred's seventh birthday party, Dede consents.