Book Review- “The Spark:A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius”

Kristine Barnett wrote this book about her son, Jacob, and it is amazing. I’ve read it three times, and I’m still in love with it. Jacob is incredibly gifted and also has autism. He was diagnosed at two years old. Kristine and her husband were told that his autism was so severe that he would most likely never talk or even tie his shoes, but he beat the odds due to her dedication. She also ran an in-home daycare while raising him and his two younger brothers.

I identify with Kristine so much throughout the story- she and I both had small strokes at the age of 30, mainly due to extreme amounts of stress. Mine, of course, was brought on by a migraine, but it came from stress. To this day, I struggle with speech issues (aphasia- look that one up, it’s a lot of fun), short term memory loss and migraines. To find out more about my stroke and its impacts, you can read Invisible Changes

Kristine realizes very early on that Jacob (he is known throughout the book as Jake) is showing signs of something, but isn’t sure what. Her mother is the one that realizes that it may be autism and hands her a list of signs. Jacob was very fascinated with shadows, barely interacted with others, barely spoke and had other signs. I won’t spoil the story for you, but the shadow fascination leads to bigger things in the story. It’s pretty great. This kid’s very intelligent.

She has him evaluated and is devastated by the results. Her husband is in denial for a while but does come to accept the diagnosis.


Julian was about four when we started seeing behaviors. I was still quite busy with Lily’s developmental delays and her assorted therapies at that time, so I wasn’t sure what to think. He became more aggressive and less of the affectionate, sweet little boy I knew. He stopped hugging us. We lost the big kisses he gave us at night. He began throwing what I thought were big tantrums. He would scream and yell at his siblings, and I became very worried. I was heartbroken and worried about what to do, what I wasn’t doing.

We had him evaluated- I was actually relieved to get a diagnosis. It gave me a better idea of how to help him. He was diagnosed with ADHD (severe, combined) and autism in late 2011. That story can be found in Looking At the Bright Side

He still won’t hug us, and I miss that. Julian’s got an adorable smile that everyone loves, and I offer him hugs when he is upset. I know he probably won’t take it, but he knows he can have one whenever he needs it.

Kristine tells the story of her family in a very relatable way. I believe that’s why I like it so much. Even if you don’t have a child or know one with autism, it’s a great book to read. You can tell that she is very dedicated to her family and work. She gives so much hope to the reader in her story, even during the not-so-great parts of their lives.

My favorite quote from the book is “Certainly people with autism are in our world. They’re just not thinking about the things we want them to think about.” This is so true! I’ve worked with a lot of kids with autism, and they think about a lot of things I would never think about. You would be surprised at the things they are capable of thinking about. They may not be able to verbalize it very well, or even at all, but they can still think of things we may not be aware of.

I also see this with Julian. We can be at dinner and watching the news and he’s thinking about a video he watched last week on YouTube. (I know this because I asked.) He once got an award for “Out of this world thinking” in elementary school. Let these kids, let all kids think and dream. You’d be surprised what they may come up with.

Pic courtesy of Google

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