After Doctors Said He Would Never Read, “Autistic” Boy Heads for Nobel Prize
Jacob Barnett didn’t speak for years. Doctors declared that autism would keep him from ever doing simple tasks like reading or tying his own shoes. But after his mother began injecting fun and music and science into his life, he emerged from his cocoon.
Fortunately for Jacob, his mother noticed that when left to play on his own, the 3 year-old created wondrously complex maps and patterns. She yanked him out of “special ed” classes — where he was forced to do things that caused him to fail — and began preparing him for kindergarten herself.
The many forced hours of therapy, trying to persuade him to talk, finger paint, and to do basic physical tasks only frustrated and bored Jacob, making him more withdrawn.
Back at home, his mother let him explore shapes and shadows. The more he played with things he enjoyed, the more his shell cracked open, and he began speaking and opening up to others.
At 3 1/2 years-old, she took him star-gazing and to a planetarium where a professor was explaining the movement of planets. While there, his little hand shot up and he easily answered a difficult question. All the while he had been figuring out complex math on his own.
Jacob says, “Because of autism, I was constantly thinking about what I saw in such extreme detail that it seemed like I wasn’t thinking at all.”
At age 11, Jacob is now enrolled in college as a mathematics wizard and studies condensed matter physics at Purdue University in Indianapolis.
His mother Kristine Barnett, wrote a book about how to bring out the best in any child, called The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius.
“Every child has a special gift inside of them, regardless if you are a little different,” she told the BBC. “I operate on a concept (that calls for) surrounding the child with what they love – be it music or art, whatever they are drawn to.”
In the TED-x Teen talk below, Jacob suggests that all of us should do our own thinking, rather than only learning in a classroom. Because Isaac Newton was forced to do that, we have modern physics, he says.
Newton was attending Cambridge in 1665 when it was suddenly closed due to the plague. “He had to stop learning, but he didn’t want to stop thinking,” the young Barnett points out. “He started trying to calculate the moon’s journey around the earth and in order to solve that problem, he invented calculus, Newton’s three laws, the universal law of gravitation, the reflecting telescope so he could check his work, and optics — and all this crazy stuff — all in the two years when he had to stop learning.”