Doctors said that Jacob Barnett would never be able to tie his own shoes, but at the age of 15…Barnett has become the youngest astrophysicist in the world.
At the age of 2, Jacob was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism and doctors said he would never be able to read or write. But his mom Kristine Barnett, refused to listen to their words. Instead, she set out to help him transform his life. The key, according to mom Kristine,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.
After his diagnosis, Jacob was visited frequently by a number of psychologists under an Indiana program called First Steps, which included a developmental therapist, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist, among others.
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. But Kristine started to notice that when he was not in therapy, Jacob was doing “spectacular things” on his own. For example, she told the BBC:
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.
At one point, he took a bundle of crayons and arranged them across the living room floor in the color spectrum, which he had distinguished from light coming through the living room window and hitting glasses perched on a table.
It was then that Kristin decided to make a change. The Hamilton County mom decided to take Jacob out of school and prepare him for mainstream kindergarten herself.
Jacob thrived under his mom’s personal attention. She let him explore the things he wanted to explore. He studied patterns and shadows and stars. One night, Barnett took Jacob out after dark, turned on fog lights of her car, put on some Louis Armstrong, laid on hood of the car with him and looked at the stars.
Little did I know it would be those stars that would bring him back into our world. They were what we had. It was what we had to hold onto. It was the beginning with a relationship with my child.
By the age of 11, Jacob was ready for college. He began to study condensed matter physics at the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. At the ripe old age of 14, experts said that the Indiana prodigy had an IQ higher than Einstein’s and would be well on his way to winning a Nobel Prize.
Today Jacob is a student at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario and he is working on his Master’s Degree.