Book of the Month

Back to June 2014 Ed Reporter

Book of the Month

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism, Kristine Barnett, Random House, 2013, $16.00

Jacob Barnett’s mother was told that the best she could hope for from her autistic two-year-old son was that he’d learn to tie his shoelaces by the time he was a teen. At age eleven, Jacob was accepted to college; by age fifteen, he was attending the world’s second-highest rated institute for the study of theoretical physics.

The Spark encourages parents to advocate for their children. One of the author’s main themes is that we must not allow children to be put into “rigid boxes.”

Seeing their son begin to regress at around 14 months, the Barnetts enrolled him in therapies designed to help autistic children. Eventually his mother felt they were on the wrong path; Jacob was stressed and had no time to play. She walked away from the experts, without even trying to change their minds about her son.

Trained experts judged Jacob’s wiggling, jumping, and scooting as aimless and pointless. But little Jacob was trying to figure out how light moves through space! He didn’t have the vocabulary to explain this to anyone. If his mother had not rebelled, he never would have learned the words. While typical therapy focused on the lowest skills and “[hammered] away on what the kids couldn’t do,” Jacob’s mother stressed what he could do and what he wanted to do.

Jacob wanted to carry around an astronomy textbook. His parents discovered that he could read and was reading it. The Barnetts found cooperative professors who let Jacob sit in on college classes. By age ten, his math skills were at “the level found in someone who is working on a doctorate in math, physics, astronomy, or astrophysics.”

Despite Jacob’s high intellect, his parents made sure he had a childhood. They began a sports program for autistic children and helped other families celebrate the joys of family fun and togetherness. He lived at home while attending college because they knew dorm life wasn’t right for him. Jacob is an engaging young man who plays Xbox games, basketball, and has friends.

Not every autistic child is a savant and every child is not a genius. But all children have God-given talents that need nurturing. Kristine Barnett encourages parents to look for them, saying that if you “fuel a child’s innate spark, it will always point the way to far greater heights than you could ever have imagined.”