Top positive review
22 people found this helpful
on 14 April 2013
This book tells of a child prodigy, Jake, who overcame autism with the help of his parents, to astonish the world of physics by the age of twelve.
Kristine was a city-raised Amish girl who had to leave her Indiana community to marry Michael. Their son Jake early learned letters and rhymes but by the age of two he began losing interest in other children. Kristine ran a daycare centre. Despite help from developmental therapists Jake stopped speaking and in October 2000 he got a formal diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.
"Autism is a thief", says Kristine. "It takes your child away, your hope, your dreams." Jake had a very high IQ but preferred to spin in circles or look at lines than communicate. He got state-funded speech therapy, and family outings. Therapists focused on social skills Jake was failing to master. Kristine and Michael supported each other and had a second baby boy. State funding for Jake stopped at age three but intervention works best up to the age of five, so Kristine kept working by herself. She noticed that Jake had lined up his crayons in the order of the colours of the rainbow... he had watched a water glass with the sun shining through it creating a spectrum.
Kristine was determined to give Jake a fun childhood. She let him play. But then Jake joined a developmental preschool and the teacher told her to stop sending Jake to school with his alphabet flashcards - he might never be able to tie his shoelaces. Kristine rebelled and decided to teach him herself - to focus on what Jake could do, instead of what he couldn't. Allowed to assemble jigsaws and wooden puzzles, to add up long numbers and read, Jake relaxed. He worked out equations, beat adults at chess. He memorised driving atlases and could give explicit directions for long routes. All this by the age of four, though he still couldn't discuss his day. Kristine set up a group for other autism spectrum kids locally. One child excelled at art, another at taking computers and TVs apart and repairing them, and at Kristin's new after school charity, Little Light, they flourished and demonstrated considerable talent. Their exhausted, stressed parents were overjoyed.
Aged three Jake went to an observatory lecture on astronomy; he had devoured an astronomy text and he answered a question effortlessly. Aged thirty however, with a new baby, Kristine had a serious stroke and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease lupus. Michael bore the brunt of all the efforts that had to be made. Jake went to early school and coped well. With his mother he watched other savants on internet video clips, and he seemed to have many of their skills. Aged nine he began taking astronomy classes at a nearby university and working out complex theories. Encouraged, Kristine began a youth sports club for autistic kids, where everyone became more sociable and learned to have fun. Then the recession hit. "Everyone was broke and afraid. When the President comes to Indiana you know you're in trouble." Jake was tested for and encouraged to apply for college, aged ten, whereupon the bored kid was able to blossom.
Taking official exams online, earning his way into a maths course, viewing online lectures, Jake suddenly excelled. He joined high IQ group Mensa and got an A in college math. Dr. Tremaine in Princeton confirmed that Jake had created an original theory in relativity and said that if he kept working he could be in line for a Nobel Prize. Jake's first summer job, aged twelve, broke records and made him the youngest astrophysics researcher in the world. He was able to solve an outstanding problem that career math researchers had been working on for many years. Outside college he plays with his brothers and enjoys life, aged thirteen.
I found this tale fascinating and thought the level of Kristine's dedication not just to her own child but to those of other families was amazing. I did feel that these parents should have had more care with money - they spent their own cash on the charity and took no money from parents, so when the recession hit and they had no work, a new mortgage and a derelict building to renovate, they had no fallback and the family had to eat ramen every day and patch up clothes. For all of us who were profoundly bored by school, Kristine's story provides moral support - the education system doesn't get it right for everyone. For parents raising children with special developmental needs of any kind, THE SPARK is a must-read and an inspiration.