Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age twelve he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.
The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by “experts” at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests—moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric—Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.
Relying on the insights she developed at the daycare center she runs out of the garage in her home, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark”—his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could? This basic philosophy, along with her belief in the power of ordinary childhood experiences (softball, picnics, s’mores around the campfire) and the importance of play, helped Kristine overcome huge odds.
The Barnetts were not wealthy people, and in addition to financial hardship, Kristine herself faced serious health issues. But through hard work and determination on behalf of Jake and his two younger brothers, as well as an undying faith in their community, friends, and family, Kristine and Michael prevailed. The results were beyond anything anyone could have imagined.
Dramatic, inspiring, and transformative, The Spark is about the power of love and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and the dazzling possibilities that can occur when we learn how to tap the true potential that lies within every child, and in all of us.
Praise for The Spark
“[An] amazing memoir . . . compulsive reading.”—The Washington Post
“The Spark is about the transformative power of unconditional love. If you have a child who’s ‘different’—and who doesn’t?—you won’t be able to put it down.”—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
“Love, illness, faith, tragedy and triumph—it’s all here. . . . Jake Barnett’s story contains wisdom for every parent.”—Newsday
“This eloquent memoir about an extraordinary boy and a resilient and remarkable mother will be of interest to every parent and/or educator hoping to nurture a child’s authentic ‘spark.’”—Publishers Weekly
“Compelling . . . Jake is unusual, but so is his superhuman mom.”—Booklist
“The Spark describes in glowing terms the profound intensity with which a mother can love her child.”—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree
“Every parent and teacher should read this fabulous book!”—Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and co-author of The Autistic Brain
Barnett, the mother of a child prodigy who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, swiftly draws readers into her family life, sharing her humble upbringing in central Indiana as a member of the New Amish, and her whirlwind romance and marriage to a young man named Michael Barnett. The couple settles down to raise a family, he working at Target, she running a daycare center. When informed that their first child will never read or tie his shoes, the author follows her mother gut, opening her own pre-kindergarten boot camp for autistic kids to prepare them for mainstreaming. Barnett had seen a spark in Jake and deeply believed that her child had much higher potential. Indeed, Jake with an IQ higher than Einstein s not only soon reads, but creates an original theorem that may put him in line for a Nobel Prize (at nine, he s been admitted to a nearby university). With passion and grace, Barnett covers Jake s transformation, how close he came to being lost in a special ed system focused on what children can t do, and her own journey as the mother of three sons and as advocate for Jake and other autistic children. She also explores and defends the balance between Jake s intellectual pursuits and his right to an ordinary, happy childhood. This eloquent memoir about an extraordinary boy and a resilient and remarkable mother will be of interest to every parent and/or educator hoping to nurture a child s authentic spark.