Jacob Barnett was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old. His Mother, Kristine Barnett, was told he would probably never be able to tie his shoes. Now, experts say, he has an IQ higher than Einstein (170, if you want to know). Now at age 16, he is busy giving TedTalks and working on an advanced degree in quantum physics! If that weren’t enough, he may be in line for a Nobel Prize!
His Mom initially, was terrified to go against the advice of Doctors and the widely excepted, highly structured methods for helping kids with autism (now know as Asperger’s) integrate into daily life. In her book, The Spark, she describes how one special-ed teacher, abiding by the prescribed methods of teaching children with Asperger’s, forced her to leave at home Jacob’s treasured alphabet cards at home saying: “We don’t think you’re going to need to worry about the alphabet with Jacob.” The meaning of course is both chilling and damning, the teacher didn’t think Jacob would ever learn to read…
During this difficult time, Kristine began to realize Jacob’s potential during a lecture at a local planeterium after she had recently taken him stargazing. The lecturer began asking questions and at 3 ½, little Jacob began answering these complex questions about the universe! The NY Daily News reported that his Mother also noticed that he would “create maps all over our floor using Q-tips. They would be maps of places we’ve visited and he would memorize every street.” Though her husband was against it, she decided to home school. This clip from a BBC News interview is fascinating:
The challenge was taken on while the entire family was in the midst of massive health and financial challenges. The second child, recently born Wesly was diagnosed with a reflex disorder causing multiple seizures (up to 9 a day) and choking on simple liquids. At age 30, while pregnant with her 3rd child Ethan, Kristine went into organ failure, had a stroke AND was diagnosed with lupus. During the global economic meltdown, Kristine’s husband Michael Barnett loses his job at Circuit City and the family is financially stressed (the Barnetts spend part of an Indiana winter in a house without heat).
In the face of continued hardship and health challenges, the Barnett family persevered. We can all learn from this incredible level of devotion and love. One of the most important questions this Mom asked was: “Why is it all about what these kids can’t do? Why isn’t anyone looking more closely at what they can do?” I think we might all ask ourselves this question…
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