Kristine Barnett noticed that her little boy Jacob – whom doctors had tagged as autistic – seemed to have a fascination with patterns. So she took him out of his school’s special ed program and let him study the things he’s passionate about. Now Jacob is on his way to winning a Nobel Prize.
Jacob Barnett, who was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at 2 years old, is now studying for a master’s degree in quantum physics.
Jacob was silent for much of his childhood. But when he started to speak, he was able to communicate in four different languages.
As a child, doctors told Jacob Barnett’s parents that their autistic son would probably never know how to tie his shoes.
But experts say the 14-year-old Indiana prodigy has an IQ higher than Einstein’s and is on the road to winning a Nobel Prize. He’s given TedX talks and is working toward a master’s degree in quantum physics.
The key, according to mom Kristine Barnett, was letting Jacob be himself — by helping him study the world with wide-eyed wonder instead of focusing on a list of things he couldn’t do.
Diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 2, Jacob spent years in the clutches of a special education system that didn’t understand what he needed. His teachers at school would try to dissuade Kristine from hoping to teach Jacob any more than the most basic skills.
Jacob was struggling with that sort of instruction — withdrawing deeper into himself and refusing to speak with anyone.
But Kristine noticed that when he was not in therapy, Jacob was doing “spectacular things” on his own.
“He would create maps all over our floor using Q-tips. They would be maps of places we’ve visited and he would memorize every street,” Kristine told the BBC.
One day, his mom took him stargazing. A few months later, they visited a planetarium where a professor was giving a lecture. Whenever the teacher asked questions, Jacob’s little hand shot up and he began to answer questions — easily understanding complicated theories about physics and the movement of planets.
Jacob was just 3-1/2 years old.
His mom realized that Jacob might need something that the standard special education curriculum just wasn’t giving him.
So Kristine decided to take on the job herself.
“For a parent, it’s terrifying to fly against the advice of the professionals,” Kristine writes in her memoir, “The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius.” “But I knew in my heart that if Jake stayed in special ed, he would slip away.”
His IQ rounds out to 170 — higher than that of Albert Einstein. He’s been working on his own theory of relativity. Professors at Princeton’s Institute for Advance Study were impressed.
“The theory that he’s working on involves several of the toughest problems in astrophysics and theoretical physics,” astrophysics Professor Scott Tremaine wrote to the family in an email.
“Anyone who solves these will be in line for a Nobel Prize.”
Warner Bros. has snatched up movie rights to Jacob’s story. Kristine and her son have embarked on a European book tour, but hope to have some time to rest by July.
“My goal for the summer is just to give him a few weeks off,” Kristine told the Indianapolis Monthly. “The last time he had that was when he came up with the alternative theory to the Big Bang. So who knows what he’ll create?”