The Spark is one of those rare books that had me wanting to talk about it for a week after I finished it. It tells such a remarkable story of parental love, never giving up on a child, and achieving the seemingly impossible, that it stayed on my mind for days.
Ten years ago, when he was two, Jacob Barnett was diagnosed as being autistic, greatly shocking his parents who had watched their “normal” child’s development deteriorate over the short course of his life. By that point, Jake had withdrawn into his own world and, refusing to talk, he was content to sit quietly and stare at the shadows on the walls of his home. Soon, the “experts” had given up on Jake despite his mother’s belief that she would eventually be able to “mainstream” her son. When Kristine Barnett was told that Jake would probably never even learn to tie his own shoes, much less learn to read, she realized that she had to follow her own instincts. She was Jake’s only hope.
Today, Jake’s IQ cannot even be precisely measured because it is literally off the chart (it is said, however, to be higher than that of Albert Einstein). This is a boy who taught himself calculus in two weeks so that he would be ready to take another class in which he was interested. By the time he was nine years old, Jake was doing astrophysical research so original that he was thought of in terms of winning a Nobel Prize for the work. And, perhaps most beautiful of all, Jake Barnett seems to be a natural teacher, with all the patience and ability in the world. He loves tutoring high school and college students as much as they enjoy learning from a kid.
And none of it would have happened without his mother’s intervention. The Barnetts are not wealthy people – in fact, they sometimes struggled to feed and house their family. But Kristine and her very supportive husband were willing to spend every dime they had on their children - and on other kids like Jake. Kristine expanded her tiny daycare facility into a free program for autistic children at which each child was allowed and encouraged to pursue their own specific interests and talents – and Kristine was always able to identify those talents for each child. The daycare she started in 1996, Acorn Hill Academy, has morphed into Jacob’s Place, a successful Indiana charitable community center for children with special needs, including autism.
Kristine and Michael Barnett seem to be doing wonderful work for the people in their community. Perhaps their story will inspire other parents not to rely only on the experts who might give up on their children too soon. Parents are the best advocates of their children. If Kristine Barnett had not believed so, Jake’s wonderful mind might have been lost forever to his autism.
The Barnett family’s story is one readers will not soon forget.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)