Originally published on September 8th, 2013. Featured again on February 8th, 2014.
As a retired teacher-educator and former special education parent advocate, I found Kristine Barnett’s book “The Spark” a real eye opener.
I found it an eye opener, not because Kristine’s insights surprised me, but because they confirmed what I have long believed — that special education labels can be negatively deterministic and that autism is still seen as a lifelong disability, rather than, for some at least, a different way of interacting with the world.
For me, the first major instance of proof of that type of determinism, was when Kristine took Jake out of a special education pre-school program. Essentially, the teacher had demanded that he not be allowed to bring his alphabet cards to school again.
What that signified to Kristine, and rightly so, was that the teacher had basically given up on Jake ever learning to read — even though he was only three at the time! I mean, I am a reading specialist. I taught kids with mild to moderate autism to read as late as age eight or nine!
Anyway, thankfully, Kristine started a program called “Little Light” where she set about preparing Jake and many other children with autism, for a mainstreamed Kindergarten class. My interpretation of how her preparation differed from the formal pre-school class was that she believed the kids could learn and she was willing to go with the flow — by letting their interests, and those of the other children in her group, decide what they did and when they did it.
Of course, when Jake finally did arrive for the first day of Kindergarten, the principal was hesitant because of the earlier autism label. Fortunately, Kristine and her husband Michael talked him into giving Jake a three-week probationary period, during which time he adapted just fine.
Unfortunately, however, the challenges with the school system had only started. When Jake was around ten, Kristin and her husband Michael participated in a meeting of teachers and school officials to talk about a possible gifted program for Jake. His genius was already obvious to everyone.
Yet, they no sooner got the meeting started, and the words special education and IEP came up. No wonder Kristine got up and walked out of that room. I can well imagine the comments those so-called experts made when she did. “She just doesn’t understand. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
Well, as it turned out, it was those experts who didn’t understand.
Needless to say, this book is easy to read because the chapters flow chronologically and the chapter titles are descriptive. While the chapters on family and health problems can be long at times, they are important in terms of the context of Jake’s life. He is who he is because of who is parents are and everything that happened to him.
Endnote: See also my first post on the subject of Jacob Barnett, based on Paul Wells’ article in Macleans. It explains that Jake (Jacob) is currently attending the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.