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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.
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on 28 April 2013
My overall conclusion of this book is that it is not quite the book I thought it might have been. That's not to say the book is not good, it is good. What I mean is that the book, written by Jacob's mother, is more to do with the life surrounding Jacob than about Jacob and his autism.

However, there are many insights into Jacob and his talents and what I would say is that I recommend the parent of any autistic child to read this book.

Perhaps the most important thing about the book is the mother's relentless drive and energy. Kris Barnett took hold of her son's life and made a big difference to it. Jacob seemed normal at first but then he withdrew into himself as autistic children often do. What Kris did next has probably unleashed a mind so startling that physics will be rewritten. Kris decided that therapy was not what Jacob needed: being stretched, stretched and stretched again was. That's what has been happening. Jacob has been through school, college and now university and he is still just a small child.

From the above perspective, then, this is a book about Kris Barnett as much as it is about Jacob Barnett.

A colleague has a son with asperger's syndrome and I recommended The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time to him. I write to him yesterday and recommended this book too.

As an aside, I went onto one or two web sites to read more objective comments on Jacob than his mother could, no offence intended. I found some rather disparaging remarks by some people. I took everything the mother said at face value.

This could well turn out to be a very remarkable story indeed.

Duncan
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on 9 October 2014
An astonishing read and completely inspirational. Kristine Barnett is an amazing woman and mother. I thoroughly recommend that anyone with a child who struggles with the mainstream education regime in the UK read this book. It will freshen your resolve and fortify your spirit to keep fighting their corner. Find your child's passion and fan those flames of enthusiasm, the rest will start to follow! Keep remembering to look at the big picture and not panic because you've been told he should be able to lace up his shoes now that he's 5 years. Focus on the positive traits whilst you quietly work to resolve the negative aspects. There's a good book that talks about traits and how to solve them called: up to me by Mary Ancillette.
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on 16 June 2013
This book I would very strongly recommend for its story of how the author managed to make contact with her autistic child (work to build on what he could do, rather than concentrating on trying to fix what was amiss), and then of the issues arise with having a child genius in the family (as the autistic child turns out to be). There's also a good deal of the author's family history (she is Amish, had an inventor grandfather, has financial difficulties during the financial crisis, and another child with grave medical problems, as well as having a stroke aged 30 and being diagnosed with lupus).

This is, overall, really heart-warming and has messages for us all about how to relate to children - and indeed to one another. It also paints a picture of a remarkable family and some remarkable individuals (both the author and her children). Some parts will however, remain with me for longer than others - what's unique here is around Jacob, reaching him and what he's capable of, rather than, say, the family history (interesting though that is).
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on 19 May 2013
It opens your eyes to the world of your children, let them show you the way into their world and let them run with it.
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on 2 May 2014
I love the way this very relatable mum describes the way she had to think in order to save her son from all the prejudices of the system. My daughter is not autistic, but i will definetely try to implement some of her advise to have more fun with her and celebrate her every day!
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on 28 May 2014
I felt that she played down the autism way too much. It was like because they happened to find out what Jake's interests were and how to nurture them (at a relatively young age) and it was something that he would be able to make a living from, that they just abandoned any hope of trying to give him opportunities in other areas. it was like "right, he likes physics, the universities are offering him a scholarship so go for it". Yes that must be great if your child has a talent in an area that has money-making capabilities, but what of the kids who do not have that?
I think she made it look like living with an autistic child is easy and it definately is not. Hooray that she has a child that loves reading and learning, that is great for her. But believe me, that kind of situation is rare. I wish someone would write about what it is like bringing up an autistic child who does not have any special talent.
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on 14 June 2013
Bought this book because I have a grandson who may be on the autistic spectrum. This book should be read by every parent especially if they have difficult kids. The tendency these days is to give their "symptoms" a 3 letter acronym and write them off or use drugs. Her son Jacob (Jake) was diagnosed with autism and sent to a special school but his mother
managed to find the spark that connected to his world and helped him connect to "our world". He turned out to be an infant prodigy, for instance he co-authored a book http://arxiv.org/abs/1108.6083. It is an American family and shows the fight they had to get Jake accepted, it also describes how she set up a day centre to help desperate parents who had autistic children. A good read
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on 14 May 2013
I heard Kristine on BBC radio 4 Saturday Live programme. She has a superb way of phrasing - I remember her saying something about the pure joy of the place where creativity, maths and science meet and that she had written a book. That's just a snippet in fact the book is about the incredibly hard and now wonderful journey she's been on with her son to allow him to BE - in this case an amazing scientist even though he's only 14. At the same time she made space for him to have a wonderful childhood, something her Grandpa John would be proud of.
I downloaded this book on Sunday when I read most of it. Finished it today, Tuesday. An inspiration.
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on 2 August 2013
This was amazing. The thing which really interested me was Kristine's ability to bring out not only Jacob's abilities but those of other pre-kindergartenners. To get not only Jacob but several other "no-hopers" into mainstream Kindergarten is incredible. How many children are we condemning to uselessness or second class lives by our attitudes and educational styles? How many people leave the educational system academically and emotionally crippled by the experience? Perhaps Kristine could write a more detailed book on her methods. Her Day Care sounds fantastic fun although I suspect very few Nursery workers have her stamina.
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