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

by Kristine Barnett

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First off I did receive this book as a "first reads" book giveaway for a honest review. I have to say this one took some time to get into, I did set it aside after starting the book and then picked up again this past weekend.

The book is about a mother fighting for the education of her autistic child and not allowing to get pigeon holed and labeled into a system. It is also a book about advocating for your children and not just taking things at face value.

Here are a few quotes from the book that jumped out at me:

pg. 69 "If you can't do art, nobody cares. But if you can't do math, everyone is up in arms." "Why is that?"
pg. 95 "We think of these children as missing; we think we they need to be cured. But I believe that curing autism would be the same as curing science and art."
pg. 117 "When someone you love dies, that is a ten on the scale. When somethings a ten, you are entitled to flip out. But you can't waste a code ten on the way the label in a shirt itches your neck." This quote was a in reference to explaining appropriate responses to life situations.

The author took the time to not only pull her child out of the public education system, but started out on a mission to reach out to others with autistic children to give them a chance to find what sparks their kids to come out of their shell. The question that is not answered is were there any kids who were still unreachable. Jake Barnett became a math prodigy with the help of his parents and professors at the local colleges feeding his math and science drive which helped him come out of his shell.

The high points were the importance of advocating for your child wether he or she is special needs or not, do not let any organization pigeon hole or label your child.

I would have liked to have seen this be more about Jake but I guess I can understand some of the background information in the story. Although, some of the descriptions were not very believable, especially a Walmart that only had oil, wood and beer.

I do believe I have a somewhat better understanding of living with a child with autism, but I certainly have not walked in those shoes.

I do plan on passing along my copy. ( )
  yvonne.sevignykaiser | Apr 2, 2016 |
The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett is about how Kristine nurtured, supported, and encouraged her autistic son to be all he is capable of being. Her son, Jake, just happens to be a prodigy in math and science. Jake "began taking college-level courses in math, astronomy, and physics at age eight and was accepted to university at nine. Not long after, he began work on an original theory in the field of relativity."

"...Jake’s improbable mind is all the more remarkable for the fact that it was almost lost.... [after a] diagnosis of autism Jake had received when he was two. We had helplessly looked on as our vibrant, precocious baby boy gradually stopped talking, disappearing before our eyes into a world of his own. His prognosis quickly went from gloomy to downright grim. When he was three, the goal the experts set for him was the hope that he’d be able to tie his own shoes at sixteen." (Location 91-95)

The Spark is the story of how Kristine went from the diagnoses that Jake would never speak or tie his shoes to his being paid for advanced degree college research at age 12. Kristine believes that her journey with her remarkable son is due to "the power of hope and the dazzling possibilities that can occur when we keep our minds open and learn how to tap the true potential that lies within every child." (Location 97)

She firmly believes that focusing on what a child diagnosed with autism can do and what they enjoy, rather than their limitations, can help any child achieve goals beyond the expected. Kristine ran a daycare, and in the evenings she held special classes to support and teach local special needs children how to go to school. She also has a community program she designed to help these kids experience sports in a way that they can participate.

Although this is described as a memoir about her son, it really is about Kristine Barnett. And, at times, I found Kristine's voice in this account bordering self-righteousness and superiority. There in lies some of the issues I had with The Spark. Now, admittedly some of my issues are because I am likely not Kristine's target audience. First, I am currently working in public school special education. For all the side-stepping around her true feelings, it was quite clear that she does not respect SPED personnel. However, some of her issues could have been resolved with the public schools had she entered into meetings with a positive frame of mind along with her assertiveness, rather than the combative attitude her interactions seem to have taken.

Then, later, she makes it clear that her husband wanted his kids to experience the normal childhood he had, so home schooling was not an option. I home schooled my kids through high school - very successfully too. This kind of comment always makes me shake my head. Home schooled kids have plenty of opportunities to experience what kids in other schools experience, and perhaps more time and freedom to do so while parents tailor their educational needs to best fit them.

What I really wanted to read about was what she did do - not just the struggles, but the successes. She mentions she had great success and gives a few individual examples, but, really, just in passing. If she is having such phenomenal success with helping autistic kids adjust, then this, along with the success story of her son, should have been the focus of this book. There was a lot of repeating that play is important and that parents need to follow what kids are interested in - but most parents understand and do that already. (Even most special ed programs do that.)

I had an advanced reading copy and so some of the errors and leaps in the book could have been corrected (like going from jobless and broke to it's all A-okay again without much explanation), as well as some of the little snips (like toward public school SPED). Perhaps I just need to admit that this story, as interesting and appealing as it is, simply isn't told in a manner that I can take seriously. I think a good book could be found in Jake's story, but, for me, this wasn't quite it.

Even with these complaints, The Spark is enjoyable and may help give other parents hope and ideas that might work with their children (but don't expect too many new ideas). Other advanced readers are giving it all five stars, so my feelings likely are not going to be the norm here.
Recommended

I received an advanced reading copy of this book for review purposes.
( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I received Kristine Barnett's The Spark from LibraryThing.com's Early Reviewers program this month, my first reaction was "...why??" I'd remembered requesting it, but couldn't really remember why I'd done so. And I wasn't really in a non-fiction mood, so what was I gonna do? Although worried that my mood wouldn't give me a fair perspective on the book, I dove in anyway, ever so slightly curious.

Very early on, Kristine grabs you and holds on, totally forcing you to not only listen to and embrace this incredible woman's humility, but to acknowledge your own emotions on the subject.

This author is a woman who, despite having two special needs kids, lupus, and incredible financial difficulties (all on top of the regular taxations of life - family loss, the recession, etc.) still manages to put on a happy face for the sake of helping kids. Her message is that, regardless of their perceived abilities, all children should be encouraged to do what they love.

As the book takes you step by step through the diagnosis and subsequent trials of Jake's autism, you find yourself cheering for him, for his family, for this incredible boy who was told by professionals at three that he would never read. He was told by professional after professional that mainstreaming would never be an option but now, at thirteen years old, he's a college student, socially adept and considered to be possibly the smartest person in the world.

You don't need a genius - or even an autistic person - in your life to appreciate Kristine's story, but having a child in your life, or having someone in your life with special needs will certainly enrich your experience. And even if biographies and memoirs aren't your kind of thing (they're not mine at all), memoir is only the beginning of a description of this book. Everyone should read it.

www.theliterarygothamite.com ( )
  laurscartelli | Jul 19, 2014 |
Very interesting story of a boy genius with autism, told by his mother who just wants her son to be the best he can be. It's quite amazing to read about jake Barnett. ( )
  Smits | Dec 15, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Barnett's memoir of her son Jake's early life with autism is inspirational. When educators told her that her son would never learn to read because of his severe autism and they should focus on teaching him "life skills", Barnett refused to believe it was true. She'd seen her son do amazing things in his few short years of life and felt (though didn't yet know) that remarkable things were happening inside her son's mind. She persevered, taking risks by going against the established therapies of the day - allowing her son to play and indulge in the activities that appealed to him rather than enduring a litany of repetitive tasks with which he struggled.

As his mother, Barnett is clearly biased in her descriptions of her son's personality and gifts, but there is no arguing that Jake Barnett is a gifted child. I look forward to hearing about great achievements in his life - maybe even a Nobel Prize someday! ( )
  ReadHanded | Oct 8, 2013 |
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Epigraph
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For Michael, who makes the impossible possible every day
And for everyone who's ever been told they can't
First words
"Mrs. Barnett, I'd like to talk to you about the alphabet cards you've been sending to school with Jacob."
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Imagine that you live in a tree house in a beautiful forest, and the only place you feel safe and calm is up in that tree house. But people keep intruding. “Hey, come out of the trees!” they yell up at you. “It’s crazy to live in a tree. You need to come down here.” Then one day somebody comes into the forest, and she doesn’t yell or try to make you change, but instead climbs into your tree house and shows you that she loves it as much as you do. Wouldn’t you have a completely different relationship with her than you do with anyone else? And when she asks you to come down for a few minutes, because she has something to show you, wouldn’t you be more inclined to check it out?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812993373, Hardcover)

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age twelve he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.
 
The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by “experts” at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests—moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric—Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.
 
Relying on the insights she developed at the daycare center she runs out of the garage in her home, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark”—his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could?  This basic philosophy, along with her belief in the power of ordinary childhood experiences (softball, picnics, s’mores around the campfire) and the importance of play, helped Kristine overcome huge odds.
 
The Barnetts were not wealthy people, and in addition to financial hardship, Kristine herself faced serious health issues. But through hard work and determination on behalf of Jake and his two younger brothers, as well as an undying faith in their community, friends, and family, Kristine and Michael prevailed. The results were beyond anything anyone could have imagined.
 
Dramatic, inspiring, and transformative, The Spark is about the power of love and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and the dazzling possibilities that can occur when we learn how to tap the true potential that lies within every child, and in all of us.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:53 -0400)

The mother of an autistic child who was eventually recognized as a genius recounts her rejection of conventional advice from developmental experts and shares the strategies she utilized for tapping her son's potential.

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