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The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism Audio CD – Audiobook, Unabridged

4.7 out of 5 stars 443 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this compelling memoir, the mother of an autistic savant featured in a 60 Minutes segment tells the story of her remarkable son. The book would have benefited from a foreword by a prominent scientist and/or psychiatrist who could establish that this is completely legit. At two, Jake is diagnosed with autism. As a tyke, he memorizes every license plate in the neighborhood and teaches himself Braille. At eight, he starts auditing college courses. At 10, he teaches himself the entire high-school math curriculum in two weeks. At 13, he is a college sophomore at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The book contains many interesting nuggets about kids with autism; for example, they dislike bowling alleys (too noisy). The family’s story, which includes Jake’s dad losing his job and his mom suffering from a stroke at age 30, seems destined for a TV or movie screen. Barnett even runs a day-care center, takes in foster kids, and starts a sports program for autistic kids. Jake is unusual, but so is his superhuman mom. --Karen Springen --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“[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

“An invigorating, encouraging read.”Kirkus Reviews
“Every parent and teacher should read this fabulous book!”—Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and co-author of The Autistic Brain

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (April 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449009629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449009628
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (443 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I come to this review with a somewhat different perspective than most, because I, too, am autistic. Not nearly as severely as Jake -- I have high-functioning Asperger's. And my IQ, high as it is, pales in comparison to his genius. Nevertheless, there were many places where I saw myself in his story.

This is not only a wonderful story of a mother's struggle with "experts" on behalf of her gifted autistic son, it is also a general formula for success: When dealing with disabled or developmentally-challenged children, focus on what they CAN do, not the things they can't. Jake Barnett is a genius, but if his mother had accepted the advice of the special ed people, his brilliant mind would have been lost to the world. At age 2, she was told he would never learn to read or even tie his shoes -- in spite of his obsession with alphabet cards. All the tests focused on things he was either unable to do or -- and this later proved to be the case -- too bored to do. While his mind was studying light and shapes and geometric patterns -- things the teachers saw as mere useless distractions -- he had no interest in sitting in a circle with other children or playing with puppets, the usual kinds of expectations for toddlers. And so he was seriously mislabeled as hopeless.

Kristine Barnett refused to accept a "ceiling" for her son and decided to give him all the alphabet cards he wanted, as well as whatever other activities he found interesting, and work with him from there. This was completely against all the professional advice -- even her husband Michael was skeptical at first -- but eventually it worked. As long as Jake could focus on the things he loved -- astronomy, math, history, physics -- he was willing to work on the more mundane socialization skills.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I found this woman so annoying at first I didn't think I was going to make it through the whole book. I have two kids on the autism spectrum and my thought was "Look, lady--I don't want to hear all about your genius kid." She didn't win me over until she started talking about her groups she ran for autistic kids, "Little Light." She believes that all autistic kids have gifts, or something they're good at--it's our job to find those things and to nurture them. The reason therapy is often met with stubborness and tantrums is because it focuses on everything autistic kids can't do or are not good at. She put this into practice with ALL the kids who came to her groups, even the lowest functioning ones. She seems to be just a lovely, lovely person--the kind that gives everything away and tries to help out neighbors. Kristine Barnett is a hero for kids struggling with autism. I wish her much success--it's well deserved.
6 Comments 71 of 77 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The first thing I must say is that I loved the book, but think the title may miss the mark in reaching parents who would adore this story. In particular, those with children who have any sort of special needs, and of course, autistic families would want to know this book is a hopeful story for all of them as well. While the author happens to have a brilliant son, she shares some common denominators with all autistic families and has some wonderful insight as to how to work with these children and help them reach their full potential.

I work in Special Education at a high school with many children of varying degrees on the spectrum, so I was interested to hear another experienced voice that had success, so that we might also be able to apply it to the kids we work with. There were definitely some gems I will share to remind us that there are simple ways each day to bring out the "Spark" in each of the students:

- Treat the children as people, not problems to be fixed or objects of pity.

- Every child has something that engages them and if you find the proper lens to magnify it they will flourish.

- Encourage the passion the child has. This doesn't always take tremendous resources and if you are creative enough, you can give them all they need to succeed.

- Kids do things and play with things differently and no way is "right" except the way that makes them most productive and content.

- A rule-based check on social behavior works (they will learn to differentiate between a "code 2" and a "code 10" response if it is taught and reinforced).
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Comment 42 of 48 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Most parents are prone to bragging about their children and especially their accomplishments (sitting up, walking, potty training, reading, etc. etc.). For every age there's some parent bragging to make you feel inadequate. Kristine Barnett doesn't take that approach at all. Instead, she writes from the perspective of disbelief and shock as a child who has significant struggles with autism challenges everything she and her husband have ever believed.

I could relate to this book on a lot of levels, but our story was opposite (I didn't believe the doctors and professionals, but they ended up being right - it's a totally different situation though). Barnett was told her son would never be able to read and she has to struggle with her assumptions about school - which was something she always assumed and always had as a goal for Jake. As she challenges the system and pulls him out several times, he is able to communicate with them - eventually about how brilliant he actually is. Her description of how he thinks is captivating and it's really engaging to follow them through the process of discovering his ability to understand math and science.

I found myself wondering if other parents of autistic children would feel jealous reading it, since Jake's level of intelligence is literally one in a million, or maybe less given that he maxed out the IQ test. Having said that, if you're not comparing yourself to her and her family, this book is an amazing read and very inspiring.

People in general love the story of the underdog "winning" and this is that story. Barnett does seem a little superhuman with her love for hands on education and her energy running her day care, but I think it's her passion for what she loves coming through.
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