Monday, May 5, 2014

April Reading

The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism  by Kristine Barnett (2013)

After watching an interview of Kristine Barnett and her 15 year old son Jacob, and having previously seen a TEDxTeen talk by Jake, I borrowed her book, The Spark, from Hamilton Public Library and couldn't put it down.

Jake started life bright and curious. He talked early, learned the alphabet early (Kristine did child care in her home) and was sounding out short words by the time he was one. He loved a cd that read Dr Seuss's The Cat In The Hat and read along with it - then they discovered that not only had he memorised the English version, but also, the Japanese and Spanish versions. He also had extremely good precision and dexterity.

At 14 months they started noticing little changes in him, at 2 he was diagnosed with autism, and by 3 they were told he would never talk or read and the goal for him was the hope that he would be able to tie his shoe laces by the time he was 16.

This is the story of a mother who never gave up on the person she knew her son was. She did what experts told her to but when that didn't help she began to follow her own path, observing and responding to her son as a person. She decided that, rather than focussing on what Jake couldn't do and didn't like doing, she would focus on what he did like doing, including behaviours that were seen negatively as autistic behaviours. She looked at the same behaviours as passions. The results were extraordinary, and although Jacob proved later to be extremely intelligent - genius level - Kristine also worked with other autistic children of every IQ level, with similar resulting improvement in their quality of life.

Dr. Chris Edwards on the Skeptic website reviews the book in a very negative way. He is very defensive of the school system and seems to take Kristine's lack of appreciation of the wonderful system in which he is a teacher, as a personal affront. He makes a couple of valid points, but misses the miracle that I see, and fails to acknowledge the possibility that some children might not thrive in school. His criticism is based on the Jake we see in the present day, without acknowledging that school had nothing to do with how Jake got here.

Kristine's ideas on how to teach children are not new - unschoolers everywhere will recognise them - but although Jake was not unschooled, not even homeschooled, Kristine followed similar principles when it came to Jake's learning. Watch the short interview at least, and if you find it as amazing as I did, read the book for so much more of the story. Personally, I'm with Temple Grandin who says, "Every parent and teacher should read this fabulous book!"

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