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THE SPARK by Kristine Barnett

THE SPARK

A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius

By Kristine Barnett

Pub Date: April 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0812993370
Publisher: Random House

A memoir that attempts to answer the question, how do we determine the differences between gifted and disabled?

By even the most conservative of estimates, the number of children diagnosed with autism in the United States has skyrocketed in recent decades. However, the rise is attributed not to an increase in individuals with autism, but the changing methods of diagnosing the disorder. Also changing is how we respond to different facets of autism, which is at the heart of Barnett's memoir. Her son Jake received a diagnosis at the age of 2, which set off a series of standard educational responses; research indicates that a focus on daily life skills—self care, motor skills, etc.—provides the best chances of success. Jake's educational plan was no different, except that when the teacher discouraged the author from letting Jake engage too much with his alphabet learning cards, it simply didn't feel right. Barnett took an approach that instead focused on what she would refer to as his "spark," hoping to bring out the strengths that were at risk of being overshadowed by his perceived deficits. Focusing on his interests and strengths came with its own set of risks; there was no guarantee that reinventing his education would have an end result that would be any different than the standard education plan. Not working on “achievable” goals could result in frustrations that would hamper future efforts to help him learn core life skills. Barnett’s approach would not, of course, necessarily work for all parents, but that’s part of the point. Her wrestling with the choices she faced is laid bare on the page, and readers get a sense that she has ideas bigger than just her family. Her success with Jake is unimpeachable: He is a “prodigy in math and science” who “began taking college-level courses in math, astronomy, and physics at eight and was accepted to university at nine.”

An invigorating, encouraging read.