As a child, doctors told Jacob Barnett’s parents that their autistic son would probably never know how to tie his shoes. But experts say the 14-year-old Indiana prodigy has an IQ higher than Einstein’s and is on the road to winning a Nobel Prize. He’s given TedX talks and is working toward a master’s degree in quantum physics.

The key, according to mom Kristine Barnett, was letting Jacob be himself — by helping him study the world with wide-eyed wonder instead of focusing on a list of things he couldn’t do. Diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 2, Jacob spent years in the clutches of a special education system that didn’t understand what he needed. His teachers at school would try to dissuade Kristine from hoping to teach Jacob any more than the most basic skills.

Jacob was struggling with that sort of instruction — withdrawing deeper into himself and refusing to speak with anyone.

“For a parent, it’s terrifying to fly against the advice of the professionals,” Kristine writes in her memoir, “The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius.” “But I knew in my heart that if Jake stayed in special ed, he would slip away.” The Hamilton County mom, a nursery school teacher, decided to take Jacob out of school and prepare him for mainstream kindergarten herself.

Jacob thrived under his mom’s personal attention. She let him explore the things he wanted to explore. He studied patterns and shadows and stars. At the same time, she made sure that he enjoyed “normal” childhood pleasures — softball, picnics — along with other kids his age. “I operate under a concept called ‘muchness,’” Kristine said. “Which is surrounding children with the things they love — be it music, or art, whatever they’re drawn to and love.” By the time he was 11 years old, Jacob was ready for college. He’s now studying condensed matter physics at the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.
The moral: respect experts, but don't blindly trust them.