When Jacob Barnett was two years old, doctors told his mother, Kristine, that her son had autism and he would probably never be able to talk, read, or even tie his shoes.
Upon recommendations from Doctors and other experts, Kristine put him in a special preschool designed for kids with these kinds of challenges and special needs. Soon after, his Mom realized that the intensive program was not helping and against the advice of many, she decided to teach him herself and focus on the subjects that he seemed drawn to, like science, physics, and math.
As it turns out, Kristine could not have made a better decision. By age three, he spoke four languages, could remember virtually anything he was told or read and Jacob could figure out complex physics questions, even though he had no formal instruction.
According to Kristine, he could also finish 5,000-piece puzzles and taught himself, Braille. Jacob created complicated string arrangements in neat mathematical patterns, and diligently recreated street maps on the floor using Q-tips without looking at any maps (this was an early indicator that he had a photographic memory).
By the time Jacob Barnett was eight, with his Mom in tow, he was auditing a physics class at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (in fact, people assumed Kristine was taking the class and lacked a babysitter so had to bring Jacob along!).
After Jacob aced his final exam, the university invited him to enroll. In order to comply with the university’s requirements, Jacob first had to complete grades 6-12 which took him about a year. Of course, math was the area which came easiest to him and he breezed through algebra, geometry, and calculus in a mere two weeks!
Once officially enrolled in college at age 10, Jacob quickly became a published physicist. At 13 his YouTube TedTalk called “Follow What You Know,” has gotten over nine million views:
By 2017, rumors were appearing everywhere on the internet suggesting that Barnett would soon be a Nobelist, and that he was well on his way toward disproving Einstein’s theory of relativity.
After graduating from college, Barnett was the youngest student to ever be excepted at the prestigious Perimeter Institute, the virtual epicenter of advanced thinking in the world of physics. He finished his master’s degree and is soon to be completing his Ph.D.
I found Jacob’s story to be very inspiring and in searching for more background on his history, I discovered this interview by Ron Sandison with his Mom, Kristine Barnett. Ron outlines four things he learned from Kristine that I felt would encourage parents dealing with autism and looking for help:
1) Be proactive.
Jacob began regressing at the age of two and quit talking. Kristine told the professionals, “Why concentrate on what Jacob can’t do? Why not focus on what he can do?” She focused on Jacob’s interests in shapes, shadows, and flashcards to help him develop speech and social skills. Kristine was proactive in preparing Jacob for schools.
2) Create your home into a learning environment
Kristine transformed her home into a learning center for children with disabilities. Neighbors, business owners, and friends donated supplies for the children’s fun activities. The children built everything from cardboard castles, a universe with tinfoil stars, to paper-mâché butterflies. She encouraged her son to have fun while learning. By harnessing Jacob’s passion for science and art, his social skills also improved.
3) Keep a positive attitude.
It’s always a joy talking with Kristine because of her upbeat attitude. No matter what doctors or professionals told her, Kristine kept a positive attitude and trusted that God would give her wisdom in teaching Jacob. Kristine encourages parents, “If you fuel a child’s innate spark, it will always point the way to far greater heights than you could ever have imagined.”
4) Progress comes through perseverance
Raising a child with autism requires advocacy and hard-work. Kristine said, “Whenever I meet an autistic kid who has made progress, I know that someone fought hard for that kid. No matter what the accomplishment whether he’s toilet trained or in secondary school, whether he’s recently started talking again or has gotten his first job, I know that someone behind that child believed in him and that they fought for him.”
Jacob Barnett himself frequently reveals in interviews that he is very happy to be autistic and offers this very encouraging statement:
I’m very happy to be autistic,” … “If I was not autistic, I would not be at the place I am right now. Autism is my way of thinking. It’s my way of viewing the world. It’s because of that that I’m able to do what I’m able to do best.”
In this fascinating interview, just as he is preparing to enter the Perimeter Institute, Jacob explains that he is indeed happy to have been born with autism:
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Jacob Barnett’s Facebook Page
Pacific Standard: 30 Under 30, May 2017
The Art of Autism, I Am Jake, March 2015.
Time Magazine, 12-Year-Old Genius Expands Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Thinks He Can Prove It Wrong, March 2011
The Art Of Autism, 4 Things I Learned About Parenting From Kristine Barnett – Parent To Autistic Genious Jacob Barnett, January 2017.