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"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.
Praise for" The Spark"
" An] amazing memoir . . . compulsive reading."--"The Washington Post"
""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"
"Love, illness, faith, tragedy and triumph--it's all here. . . . Jake Barnett's story contains wisdom for every parent."--"Newsday"
"This eloquent memoir about an extraordinary boy and a resilient and remarkable mother will be of interest to every parent and/or educator hoping to nurture a child's authentic 'spark.'""--Publishers Weekly"
"Compelling . . . Jake is unusual, but so is his superhuman mom.""--Booklist"
""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"
Revealing a child's immense potential
Jacob’s story may sound familiar. After a healthy babyhood, he began to change as his second birthday approached. His speech slowed and then stopped. He ignored his peers and parents. He developed unusual obsessive patterns, gazing at sunlight, waving his hands. He was eventually diagnosed, as you might have guessed, with autism. And so entered experts for speech development, motor skills, life skills. They announced to mother Kristine Barnett that Jacob would never read. In fact, he’d be lucky to tie his shoes.
Yet Barnett was not convinced by the experts. She paid attention to the way her son loved alphabet cards, to his interest in the sky, and wondered, why are we paying attention to what he can’t do rather than what he can do? And then she decided—against the advice of his educators and her husband—to prepare Jacob for mainstream kindergarten herself.
The rest of Jacob’s story spills forth like a fairy tale: He stops many disruptive behaviors, embraces his giftedness, finds friends, responds to his parents and begins attending college at the tender age of 9. While his remarkable trajectory may be discouraging to families of severely autistic children who have not made the same strides, the real pleasure of The Spark does not lie in Jacob’s story alone but in his mother’s unwavering view that each child has tremendous promise, an innate spark, which can be ignited and nurtured by perceptive parents.
Barnett’s devotion to her son will stir readers to take a closer look at their own children and loved ones, as will her singular focus on providing meaningful experiences for her boy. After a day of therapy, she packs up the then-silent Jacob, drives out to the countryside, turns on the radio and dances with him under the stars. The two share a popsicle while sitting on the hood of the car. She writes, “Indulging the senses isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. We have to walk barefoot in the grass. . . . We have to lie on our backs and feel the sun on our faces.” These experiences open us up to our very humanity. In this way, Barnett’s inspiring story is really relevant to all of us.