What If a Teacher Told You Your Son Would Never Read? Kristine Barnett, Author of ‘The Spark’ Refused to Give Up

When a preschool teacher told Kristine Barnett that her autistic son would never read–so she shouldn’t bother teaching him–she pulled him out of class. Ever since then, she’s been completely devoted to Jacob. They found out that his IQ is higher than Einstein’s, and by age 9, he was working on an original theory in astrophysics that may put him in line for a Nobel Prize someday. Kristine’s book, The Spark: A Mother’s Journey of Nurturing Genius is a testament to her love for and belief in her son who’s potential could’ve gone untapped. Today, Jacob is a teenager and taking graduate level classes. You might have seen him on YouTube or TV. Keep on eye on this book–it’s even been optioned for a movie.
Below, Kristine talks about her extraordinary son and popular book.
KK: In three sentences, how would you describe what your book is about?
KB: The Spark is an inspirational memoir that narrates my journey with her remarkable child who was once locked in the silent world of autism and later, despite all odds, emerged to become one of the world’s youngest astrophysics researchers. Through love and perseverance, me and my son Jacob led an entire community of autistic children to achieve remarkable results that would surprise experts and help to redefine what the autism label means. Beyond this, the story points the way to unlocking the untapped potential or spark that perhaps lies deep within all of us!
KK: How old was your son when doctors told you he would never learn? How old was he when you knew differently?
KB: When Jacob was 3 years old, his special education teacher told us that he would never need to learn the alphabet. Against the advice of everyone including my own husband, I pulled him out of special ed and began to work with him on my own. Through play and typical childhood childhood experiences as well as focusing on what he could do, rather than his shortcomings, I began to see results. I had never given up on Jacob’s potential to learn although I knew he faced tremendous challenges. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only one who could see that he was working on something remarkable deep within his silent world. Within six months of taking Jacob out of special education preschool, he was in fact reading without any formal instruction! Later that year at a trip to a local planetarium, Jacob surprised us all by answering college level astronomy questions about the relationship between the mass of the moons of Mars and the gravitational pull of the planet!
KK: What advice do you have for parents of special needs children who are getting less than positive news from their doctors?
KB: Raising a special needs child is one of the hardest things a parent could ever imagine facing. In spite of the overwhelming diagnosis that I was given for Jacob, I never gave up hope. I refused to let myself focus merely on his challenges or to let any label define his potential. Do not forget to focus on your child’s strengths and to celebrate the things that they are drawn to and inspired by. These could be the very things that can lead them to reach the ultimate potential that they have inside of them.
KK: Can you tell us how old your son is now and a little bit about what he has accomplished?
KB: Jacob is now 14, and he is a research scientist in the field of quantum physics. He is the youngest person to ever be published in Physical Review A, a prestigious scientific journal. He takes graduate level classes in mathematics and physics, tutors undergraduate students and has expanded his research to multiple areas including chaotic laser physics, quantum friction and integrable systems. At age 12, Jacob made a YouTube video on calculus that went viral and had over 2 million views. It was seen in every country around the world. He was invited at 13 to New York to give a Tedxteen talk at the Scholastic Auditorium on Broadway that is now the eleventh most watched Tedx talk of all time. This was a remarkable achievement for a boy who was told he would never speak. Jacob has been on CBS News, 60 Minutes and on the Glenn Beck Show on Fox.
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