Don't fix what's not brokenFollowing a diagnosis of autism at age two, Jacob was subjected to a cookie cutter special education system that focused on correcting what he couldn't do compared to normal children. For years, teachers attempted to convince Kristine Barnett that her son would only be able to learn the most basic of life skills. When exposed to the state system of educational therapy, Kristine noticed Jacob would withdraw deeply and refuse to speak with anyone. Even though she found it "terrifying to fly against the advise of the professionals," she knew in her heart "that if Jake stayed in special ed, he would slip away," Kristine relates in her memoir, The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius. So began a journey for Jacob that would lead to such unexpected achievement that the whole premise of standardized therapy for this 'special needs' child would be blown to bits.
A path of passion and discoveryAfter years of frustration and little progress, Kristine made a radical decision in the eyes of the special ed system -- she took Jacob out of school and prepared him for kindergarten herself. As described in the New York Daily Times:
She let him explore the things he wanted to explore. He studied patterns and shadows and stars. At the same time, she made sure that he enjoyed "normal" childhood pleasures - softball, picnics - along with other kids his age. "I operate under a concept called 'muchness'," Kristine said. "Which is surrounding children with the things they love - be it music, or art, whatever they're drawn to and love."
By the time Jacob reached the age of 11, he entered college and is currently studying condensed matter physics at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. According to an email Professor Scott Tremaine wrote to Jacob's family, "The theory that he's working on involves several of the toughest problems in astrophysics and theoretical physics ... Anyone who solves these will be in line for a Nobel Prize."
Jacob also has an IQ of 170 - higher than that of Einstein. He is history's youngest astrophysics researcher, has spoken at a New York TED conference and appeared on a variety of news interviews, including 60 Minutes and the Time magazine website. Not bad for someone who was classified by state experts as so severely disabled that he would never tie his own shoes or learn to read. If Jacob had stayed within the system, the prediction may very well have come true.