The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism

The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism

by Kristine Barnett


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812983562
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/25/2014
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 197,241
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Kristine Barnett lives in Canada with her husband, Michael, and their three boys, Jacob, Wesley, and Ethan. She is a public speaker on alternative education for children with autism.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

An Inch, or Ten Thousand Miles

Excerpted from "The Spark"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Kristine Barnett.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Advance praise for The Spark
The Spark is about the transformative power of unconditional love. If you have a child who’s ‘different’—and who doesn’t?—you won’t be able to put it down.”—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit
The Spark describes in glowing terms the profound intensity with which a mother can love her child.”—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree
“Every parent and teacher should read this fabulous book!”—Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and co-author of The Autistic Brain


A Conversation with Kristine Barnett, Author of The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius

Your son, Jacob, was diagnosed with autism at age 2. What was it like for you and your husband to hear this news?

When our son Jacob was two years old he was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism. Once full of joy and delightful babyhood giggles, our son was slowly slipping into his own silent world. Experts told us we might never get him back. They predicted he would never say the words "mommy" or "daddy" again and that he would not get an education outside of special ed. We were told we should begin saving for the eventual day that we would be too old to care for him. For us it was devastating. The one thing that everyone agreed on was that there was a complete absence of hope. In that one word, "autism," everything changed: our ideas of what the future held for our son and our goals as parents.

You believed that instead of focusing on what Jacob couldn't do, you could better help him by focusing on what he could do. How did you arrive at this method?

Shortly after Jacob was diagnosed as being "on the autism spectrum", we began an intense program of treatment. This was the standard protocol. Within several weeks we had a team of therapists who came out to the house to work with Jacob. Each morning a veritable army of experts showed up at our door, all focused on fighting to bring up Jacob's lowest skills. They tackled goals like going up the steps one leg at a time, playing peekaboo, and stacking rings. Soon Jacob's calendar looked like that of a busy executive rather than a preschool child's. At the time I was also running a little daycare center attached to my house. On the very first warm day of the year, I took the children out into the fresh green grass to play in the sprinkler. They kicked off their shoes and splashed each other, squealing in complete reckless childhood abandon and wonder. From my vantage point I could see back though our picture window into the house where my own son was nodding off at the table. He seemed too bored to participate in his therapy session. I realized then that all everyone had been focusing on were the things that were difficult for Jacob, the things that challenged him, and that ultimately he could not do. I also realized with a frightening certainty that we were missing something very important, something elemental and essential. We were forgetting Jacob's childhood. I realized if I did not fight for my son to have a childhood, he very well might not get the time he needed to have one. That is when my entire program with Jacob changed. I decided I would not spend any more time focusing on what he could not do! Against the advice of the experts around me who were counting hours of early intervention, I took him out into the warm Indiana countryside that night, to see the wide open sky full of stars. We kicked off our shoes, toted boxes of popsicles along, and danced to Louis Armstrong. It was there, under the stars , that Jacob began to come back from autism and into my world again.

And now Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein's! What is it like living with a genius?

Once I had found out what made Jacob light up with a smile and had decided to embrace the things that others perceived as wasted time—such as rotating balls and studying their shadows or constructing intricate geometric shapes out of yarn throughout the house by wrapping it around the surfaces of everything in the room—Jacob began to unexpectedly emerge from his diagnosis. I surrounded him with "muchness," giving him every opportunity to explore anything that seemed to engage him. By the age of three, against all odds and to the amazement of his doctors and therapy team, Jacob began to speak again, and what he said was astonishing. Looking at Mars at a local planetarium, he caught the attention of a crowd by launching into a lecture about the effects of gravity on the shape of the moons around the planet. Somehow, trapped within his own silent world, he had been working, not on preschool, but on problems that had plagued science since the beginning of time. He had rediscovered Kepler's laws of planetary motion all on his own. By age eight he was a frequent at the local university, sneaking into college lectures on astronomy and acing the exams. At nine he was formally admitted to the university. At ten he created an original theory in astrophysics that scientists believe will put him in line for a Nobel Prize. It was like pushing a snowball down a hill and watching it gain momentum. As long as I let Jacob focus on his "spark" , the things he loved and that came naturally to him, he was unstoppable!

Do you have any advice for parents that have a child that is labeled as "different"? What do you hope your book teaches them?

It is tempting for parents to go out and find help whenever anything goes wrong with their child. We hire math tutors if our children are struggling with math. There are learning centers lining the blocks of every city in America. To many, this has become a business model that just can't fail—fixing our kids whenever they seem to have difficulty in any area. It is comforting to know that if you shift the balance and instead let them explore in the areas they find compelling and that they innately are drawn to even as young children, this unexpected path can lead to those lower skills rising as well. Many of us have heard the expression "all boats rise with the tide". I believe the potential for greatness lies within each and every one of our children. I am not saying that every child is a prodigy, but I am saying that these "sparks", islands of tremendous potential, lie within all of us. And by finding them and giving them a boost, we can watch our children outdistance any possible expectation we had for them! I also am afraid that by focusing on only our weaknesses and by trying to be a competent at everything, we could be tamping down potential and even genius in our youth. Sitting somewhere in America there is the next Michaelangelo, the next Wozniak, the next Frank Lloyd Wright. It is our job to find that potential, give it everything it needs to reach its full glory, and then step out of the way!

Who have you discovered lately?

I have discovered many beautiful things in the process of writing my book! For one, the love and support of my family. My youngest child Ethan, I found, has a knack for baking fresh blueberry scones and I hope he does not stop now that the book is done! In the literary world, I was exposed to a new book by John Elder Robison called Raising Cubby. I found it provocative in that it shows how people learn talent in childhood. If it is nurtured, the heights to which that talent can rise are incredible. My dear friend Temple Grandin has also written a new book called The Autistic Brain, and I look forward to reading it and discovering the secrets she has found in research. I also was so pleased to have the honor of listening to a concert by a young musician named Mteto Maphoyi, who was raised an orphan in South Africa but learned opera from a little record player his father had left him. Sitting in an auditorium in New York, I shivered as his voice swept over the crowd. I cannot express what I felt listening other than it was like being in the shade of an angel's wings. This young man certainly has found and is using his "spark" to bring beauty to the world. For fun I have been reading Maria Shriver's book Just Who Will You Be? So inspiring and a real treat! I plan on spending the summer with the genius of Andrew Solomon's incredible book Far From The Tree and of course reading Jodi Picoult!

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The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of the inspiring books I have ever read. It should give the parent of any child with autism hope and the courage to never give up when receiving a negative evaluation. Jacob's mother was a remarkable mother and teacher who not only recognized the natural abilities of her own child but other autistic children as well. Her second child was born with very serious health problems,she suffered a stroke before 30 but that never deterred her from her goal to have Jacob reach his full potential. He is a 14 year old prodigy. A mother's love can work miracles.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down! It's an incredibly moving story about a mom who goes to the ends of the earth to prove to everyone that her autistic son CAN do. The family's journey to dispel myths about autism were simple yet with jaw dropping results. When the book was over, I was craving more. Bravo Kris Barnett! Bravo Jake!
NickyCaffey More than 1 year ago
The Spark is an AMAZING book about a child who was almost disregarded due to Autism. Instead, his mother focused on what was possible and the result is a staggering success. I highly recommend this book.
ScrappyDew More than 1 year ago
Inspiring! Jacob Barnett is a prodigy in math and science. His accomplishments at 12 years of age in physics are astounding. However, the hurdles he and his family have had to overcome in order to bring this amazing intellect to life are just as monumental. The Spark chronicles the trials and tribulations that Kris and Jacob faced from very early childhood through his pre-teen years as they work together to overcome his autism related setbacks while also developing his abilities and interests in math and science. As the story unfolds, we see that Kris is just as amazing in her strength and determination as her son. This is an amazing story. The book is well written, endearing, and engaging. Kris is so down to earth and sweet it is like having a chat with a girlfriend. Her philosophy on supporting a child's innate abilities and interests makes perfect sense. We often don't give children enough credit, they are capable of great things and Kris’s memoir certainly demonstrates that. I am fascinated to see where all of the Barnett children end up, and I am inspired to be a more patient and supportive parent for having read this. Full disclosure: I have been provided a copy of the book for the purpose of providing a review; however the opinions presented are my own and not influenced or dictated by publisher or author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an inspiring story of a loving strong woman who went out on her own against the odds and prevailed. She saw something within her son and built on it. In her own simple way she not only helped Jacob but has helped many others. With this book  she will touch more lives then even she could have ever imagined. Well writen and a very easy book to read. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outstanding.  Every parent can learn something to apply to their own children...regardless of a diagnosis.  Read this book, share this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I went through so many emotions while reading this book. From crying to laughing. Very uplifting! I need more books like this! Keeps me motivated with my autistic son, the challenges he has overcome and the more to come.
NanaX8angles More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most inspiring books that I have ever read. Since I have an autistic grandson, this book really hit home and gave me hope for his future. This is a must read for anyone touched by this growing epidemic, but especially the parents of autistic children. Bless you Kristine Barnett!
Laurel42 More than 1 year ago
This woman Rocks!!  I was blessed to meet Kristine and benefit from her encouragement personally. Experts had said so many unhelpful things to us regarding our then 11  year old son with autism. Kristine gave me hope and insight that I quote to this day. My son is 15 now and most people can't see the autism in him. I trusted my instincts, followed my heart, tossed out the low expectations experts had for my son. Three years ago he hadn't written a complete sentence on his own, now he writes fan fiction for his favorite books and is academically beyond everyone's expectations. When you have a special needs child most people take three steps backward, Kristine took three steps forward. I am excited that others can finally benefit from her kindness. These kids are going to shine we just have to find what makes them spark! 
fuzzmom More than 1 year ago
Light it! Jake is a remarkable child who might have never been able to help anyone or pursue his passion had it not been for an insightful, creative, dedicated woman. His Mom. This family's life definitely held to one of my family motto's "If nothing else, Life is never boring!" Having had a brilliant father who was still defending his patents for chemical compounds well into his late 60's, yet never could tell his right from his left or which way was North, or do math in his head. I understand a very tiny piece of how Jake's mind works. As I learned with my learning challenges, and my daughters central auditory processing disorder, sometimes, you just have to keep trying different things, until you find something that makes sense to you. It doesn't matter if the method you use to learn doesn't make sense to anyone else, as long as it makes sense to you. This is a great book for anyone with a child who learns differently.
JRay0514 More than 1 year ago
The story of this family is inspirational!  With love and dedication, the perfect path was found for Jake.  He was able to grow and flourish where he could have been left in a rough place.  So thankful this book was written!!!
Lnghsn1 More than 1 year ago
Amazingly written book! Very touching and heartfelt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing book about the marvelous instrument we all have: the mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a mother I could relate to Kristine's unrelating drive to see that her Son receive the best care, education, and future possible. I knew very little about autism so the book opened my eyes to the diagnosis. It also filled my heart with hope that Kristine's story will inspire more positive understanding and appreciation of everyone's unique gifts. Wonderful book for any parent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Spark was a family’s amazing journey into the depths of autism and brilliance! I loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jacob is so lucky to have such devoted parents and a mother who didn't stop until he reached his full potential, even though he is still amazing everyone with his knowledge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DylanHenkel_77 More than 1 year ago
The memoir focuses on Kristine Barnett: a mother, a wife, a teacher and a role model. Kris and Michael are two parents raising three unique children. Jacob, their first son, was diagnosed with autism and Wesley, their second, with a neurological disorder that impacts the entire body. After being told that Jacob would likely not be able to tie his own shoes or ever read, Kris decides to remove him from special education and open her very own after school program called "Little Light." The program allowed Kris to take what many saw as weaknesses in children with disabilities and turn those into sparks that allowed the kids to progress with their disabilities. The many struggles and hardships that Kris and Michael go through make the reader question how they were able to persevere and remain emotionally stable throughout a large majority of the book. Themes that are heavily prevalent include perseverance and lack of conformity. Kristine’s background and family members allowed her to get through a large portion of the obstacles she faced by remaining true to her morals and values. I am confident that if the memoir were to be made into a movie it would have great success among many diverse audiences. It truly is an inspiration for every parent and teacher who works with kids that have disabilities. Regardless of age, gender, or profession The Spark is an eye opener that allows the audience a greater awareness on a topic that many tend to look overlook, in today's society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There's no telling what an autistic person may be capable of if there isn't accompanying retardation. I think it was also helpful for this family in that both parents were young and as energetic as possible, so not held back by personal debility and encroaching age, and there was no challenging older child on hand. I was impressed by the author's writing skills and I feel she is extremely intelligent as well. It was a satisfying book and I'd like to write one myself about my own experience with autism; I may do so someday.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am fourteen years old and i read this because my mum, who is a special ed teacher that works with kids like jake recommended it. I loved this book. Its one of the first read adult book i've read and i would absolutly read more books like this. I recommend this book for adults that can relate to it, and also anyone 12 and up because its just an inspiring story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is wonderful on many levels.  It's the story both of Jake's genius and of his mother, Kristine's and, in truth, the story of all of our genius and potential that's so often misunderstood or unrecognized and therefore, not properly encouraged. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago