Jacob Barnett, boy genius - Macleans.ca

Jacob Barnett, boy genius

Diagnosed with severe autism as a child, Barnett is now 15 and one of the world’s most promising physicists


Jacob Barnett (Photographed by Jessica Darmanin)



Jacob Barnett, boy genius

  1. Just read “The Spark”. What an incredible story! I look forward to watching this boy’s future.

  2. This is such an inspiring story. I have read “The Spark” and think it is very cool that the family has come to Canada. I will be following Jacob on his incredible journey of learning.

  3. Less interested in how Mom handles autism. More interested in what the kid is working on.

    • You do grasp that, had Mom not been a maverick about “handling autism”, the kid would presently be working on controlling his massive frustration and banging his head on the wall?

      • You don’t know that. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

      • You do grasp that he was just sharing his opinion? He didn’t bash the mom or anything, his statement wasn’t really negative. I agree with him. While I do find how his mother handled the challenge of raising him and found a way to nurture his talents inspiring I am more interested in the science that he’s working on and what if any paper’s he’s publishing :)

        • That information appears to be in the article. He is currently completing the introductory portions of a demanding course of study at a place called The Perimeter Institute. There are probably articles online about the facility, including in-depth information that would be out of place in a general interest magazine article which pretty clearly deals with the child himself.

        • Sounds like, from the article, he’s still in the early going. He has already learned a lot, but quantum physics is a huge field, and he also has to learn the mathematical tools to communicate with other physicists (cf Lie algebras, etc.)

          Once he’s got all that knowledge at his fingertips, *then* he’ll be able to start integrating everything, and start moving the science forward as hoped for.

        • Making wrong statements about autism is NOT an opinion. It’s making wrong statements.

      • Wow. Banging his head against the wall in frustration? You have absolutely no way to prove that, and the implication I believe is insulting to the kid.

        However, Jacob seems to be incredibly gifted, and at a surface glance – the mom seems to be milking him for all he’s worth – parading him around to sell her book. It’s not about her. Her story of trying to cope with Jacob’s autism isn’t what is interesting. Jacob’s prowess is. I may be wrong, but her doing most of the talking when the talent is sitting to her right, doesn’t sit well with me.

        I’m not even going to go into why the dad isn’t present in the video. I saw him in earlier interviews. Did he have no role? She drove him to a remote area where he discovered stars for the first time? Please. It reeks of overbearing mother seeking attention.

        • The biggest problem in education (and much more so in the US) is the need to pigeon-hole people into aptitudes and behavioral niches to make it “easier” for the teacher and the system to do their job of “teaching” 30+ kids per class.

          The fact that the mother identified that her child was not the kid everyone thought he was, and did everything in her power to buck that label (and you would be surprised at how hard that can be to fight that entrenchment) and everything to nurture his strengths is a testament to her. Kids fundamentally have both a broad range and depth of strengths and weaknesses, and trying to get them onto the same curriculum leads to kids falling through the cracks.

          If she simply let every “expert” define her child and wilted away with that bias, then Jacob would not be where he is now.

          That you cannot acknowledge, or even worse, recognize that accomplishment is truly remarkable…

          • Jocob’s mother has taught us all about the importance of advocating for loved ones rather than blindly accepting the experts opinions.

            I love Austin’s comment above. I am a teacher and I agree that there is too strong a push in pigeon-holing kids. I use a program called Who Is NOBODY? http://www.whoisnobody.com that supports kids in figuring out their passions and using them to help others to connect with the world. This program essentially does what Jacob’s mother did – support the passion vs. try to correct what is deemed a flaw.

        • If you do not have an Autistic child, then you simply will not understand the family dynamic.

          A mother of an Autistic child will put their heart and sole into their Autistic child. Because, unlike other diseases, this disease truly has the audacity of hope….hope that the child will “recover”, hope that the child will be able to function in society, hope that the child might find happiness and love. Most of us pay fortunes for the therapies in the hope that will improve our child’s condition. And there are absolutely no guarantees for the money spent. This mother used her power of observation to help her child and the results were amazing!

          By the way, the article stated that he was getting 60hr/wk for therapy before mom put an end to it. These therapies usually run $60/hr therefore, $60x60hr = $3600wk or $187,200 per year. Unless they had one hell of a health insurance policy, I tend to believe that this was coming out of pocket.

          As for the father, you do not know the hell he has been through (I do). Most guys have no idea on how to deal with his disease. It totally requires a mother’s touch, patience, and determination. This father has done the right thing – support his wife and keep the family together.

          I’m JAZZED that this has a happy ending. I hope we all have them.

        • Kristine’s story isn’t about her trying to cope with her son’s autism.It is about feeding the relationship thet was about to be distroyed. Her priciples are being seen in all that Jacob is now. Without her different way of treatting him, we would have nothing to talk about. In the field of disabilities including autism, the book is motivating thousends of parents to nurture their kids and stand up for them the way Kristine and her husband had.

    • Not what the article was about. But way to derail the point and make it about you and what you want.

      • This was the title:

        Jacob Barnett, boy genius

        Diagnosed with severe autism as a child, Barnett is now 15 and one of the world’s most promising physicists

        • And the mom was and is crucial to the development thereof.

    • How her mother handled her autistic son is central to the success and the development of not only her son but for other children with autism. As a teacher that works with students with various developmental challenges, the mother may be a model to emulate…

  4. Way to go mom. Extremely happy for this family. Happy too to read such a well-written article – a rarity these days. Well done!

    • The mother’s role here is very significant and with a 12-year-old autistic myself agree with her actions in that they worked for her son. You often have to go ‘where they go’ because their enthusiasm can be all embracing and comprehensive. Then you have to seriously hit the ground running to keep their new passion fed. Sometimes it works, often the interest just fizzles out ( Computer games are an absolute killer for that though despite having the dexterity to handle controllers, he cant do his shoe laces)

      In the course of ‘going where he goes’ Ive had to learn a lot of stuff myself, astro-photography and piano among them. We are having a ball with him enjoying new discoveries and me trying to keep it a voyage of discovery of his own.

      Keeping an environment that is stimulating but not distracting is a challenge. The mum in the article got it right and because she got it right we are all likely to benefit.

  5. Such a wonderful story. Having worked with teen health issues in a youth health centre, I hope that Jacob can cope with the stressors associated with adolesence, as well as the challenges of his studies and new environment. He has a remarkable family. We wish them all success.

  6. Waterloo is such a fantastic place, this family will surely be very happy there. They deserve it!

  7. I atttended the same University at the same time he did when in Indiana (IUPUI(Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis)). He cannot even count to two! There are two gyms on our campus and one of them is the Natatorium, a very famous pool with gyms peppered throughout the entire building! Other than that he is a genius. I read this and had to say something about the gym comment, sadly we never got a bistro…

    • yeah, cause when we want to know all about gym stuff, we go ask a physicist who couldn’t care less about that stuff.

    • I think he means there is a gym and bistro within the PSI building itself, not on campus in general.

  8. Wow this has made my day!! Imagine what we can all do with our lives. Gives my family and I hope and promise. Thanks for sharing such an insightfully, beautiful story.

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  10. This is a touching story for someone who is a parent of a child who has Autism. In my case, My son is severe, and has been classified as low functioning. He seems very with it, and smart at times, but with no motivation. He has always been a gentle, sweet boy, now is 14 years old and a young man. I could only hope my prayers come true that he will speak, and become potty trained. The only thing the Craig has ever said to me, was
    ” I Love You” at the age of 3 years, and never spoke another word. This brought hope and tears to my eyes. As his father, I will always have unconditional love for him, no matter what, and will always do what I can to help. This story give us all hope, that a Mentally locked in child might just start functioning normal if not genius.

    • Since your son is non-verbal, have you looked into getting him an iPad to help him communicate? There are many stories of non-verbal children and adults who are able to type and express themselves very clearly, and there is some information out there showing that iPads can be really beneficial for autistic kids.

      But if you go that route, stay away from the game apps.

      I hope that some day, Craig is able to communicate with you in some way. He has a whole world in his head that I bet he wants to tell you about so badly.

  11. “Autism” .. what they diagnose children they have no idea what to diagnose them with… Might be “Autism”… The next stage of the Evolution of Mankind..

    • Do you have any idea what you are talking about? I’ve worked with kids with autism and aspergers, have a son with aspergers, and know many adults with it. Neurobiology has demonstrated that their brains are indeed different at the white matter level. I do agree that it may be a next step in human evolution, except that people are often so intolerant of their idiosyncracies that the likelihood of mating is definitely reduced. However, I do believe that they will be the ones who will make the next breakthroughs, because their minds work fundamentally differently. As Einstein said, you can’t use the same processes over and over and expect different results.

  12. Humbling. There is hope for humanity.

  13. He looks unhappy.

    • If you think he seems unhappy, you haven’t watched the TEDxTEEN video. Follow the link in the article, kid is fantastic!

    • I agree… Though he looked a lot happier as a kid, he seems to been unhappy now. It’s all over his face. His mom seems to be showing him off like a prized trophy; but, when in the history has THAT been beneficial to happiness.

      I’m glad he’s found that he likes physics and is having a good time studying–he should be: he’s a kid. But, even when his mom talks about the time they went out and had Popsicles, there’s not even the slightest microexpression of happiness.

      His face says it all: “I hate my life.”

  14. The Sudbury Schools let kids do what they want within rules they participate fully in making. I took my Congressman Jared Polis to one and we were mighty impressed. Half the old kids already had businesses they ran. Sudbury claims that EVERY kid gets into their first choice of college. http://sudval.org

  15. Kind of funny how these child geniuses, that receive advanced degrees at a young age,have never advance science even one atom.

    As far as autism goes, this article says more about the pseudo sciences of psychology and psychiatry than it does about this child.

    • how do you know they have never advanced science an atom? I call BS. Einstein is thought to have been on the autism spectrum. Temple Grandin has made great strides in animal husbandry. The list can go on and on, but I doubt that will alter your very fixed ideas.

      • Einstein is thought to have had autism? There is not a shred of evidence to support the diagnosis. In case you have heard all the myths of Einstein having problems in early childhood are just that. Myths.

        Einstein might have been a plagiarist (his first published paper has ZERO footnotes/references) but he sure as hell didn’t have autism

        As far as Temple Grandlin goes, I found ONE peer reviewed scientific writing. That writing isn’t even scientific. It’s Temple’s subjective opinion on how to use a subjective opinion in relation to animal stress during transport.

        This isn’t science.

        And no, the list does not go on and on.
        Go around the web and look for child prodigies then go on google scholar and look to see what they have published.
        You will be surprised how little you find.

    • “have never advance science even one atom”, you have no clue. Do you know the background (mental and health) of the scientists and physicists who have advanced science? Also there is red tape and cliches you need to fit into in order for any work done to be acknowledged. So aside from being absolutely brilliant you need to learn how to sing and dance for your peers otherwise anything presented is declared hogwash before it is given a proper look.

      • Someone remember william sidis? and many more like him…the story of this boy it’s not so impressive, if you know the field. And it’s right, almost all of ‘them’ lost their way to success. We’ll see.

  16. Big deal. Brains mean squat. As in nothing people. I’d rather work with someone who has a grade 8 education who learned from the street’s. Unless he’s coming up with new technology or curing cancer, he’s just siphoning money off the government and wasting space. Theory in Physics? Are you kidding? Anyone can have theories about Physics and read a few articles or books on it. I make money in a business and know how to make money. If he was doing that, I’d be impressed. Not the Physics nonsense. He’s an incredible academic, so what? I’m a prick aren’t I. Oh well.

    • Nobody should begrudge anyone their success, but hostility towards a pretty positive trait like intelligence is, well, dumb.

    • The people who cure cancer and come up with new technology generally “siphon money off the government” and “waste space”.

      Education: It’s a bad thing, folks.

      • This comment was deleted.

        • you do realize coren was being sarcastic right?

        • Maybe it can be sarcasm cancer, given to me by people who are dumb on the internet!

    • Yes, it seems you are, having monetized the world. I can only guess you’re rather stupid, but rich, and think everyone should be like you. I’d rather hang with a person who can think that a person who has a ton of money any day.

    • If you’re a gifted money-maker, take that gift and go make money with it. Go as far as you possibly can go and then farther. And I’ll be impressed–I love to see people doing what they are exceptional at and doing it well. But don’t begrudge other people the same. This kid isn’t a money-maker, he’s a thinker. Let him think and do it well–who knows what he’ll discover? I’m a lousy business person which means I’ll never be particularly rich, but I’m really good at what I do and I love doing it–I’m a graphic artist and my gift is visual. So what? There’s room in the world for more than just your skillset.

    • Something tells me that most of the technology used in industry and business today started off as a theory somewhere. And Mark, in science a theory is not just an idea or a guess, it is an explanation of a phenomenon, based on extensive research, which is the best explanation until further research comes up with a better explanation.

    • Not a prick, just ignorant… lol. Life is not limited to financial success. I’ve actually worked construction (up to foreman), mineral exploration (geological assistant), commerce (assistant manager), academics (research… published in English and French), and now a teacher (secondary school), and now feel I’m at the right place where I can influence and nurture future generations… Not all white collar is siphoning money off the government and wasting space.

  17. God blessed him with opportunity, I pray that he uses it to glorify God.

  18. I can relate to this young man in terms of music. Awesome kid!

  19. I am interested in the development, and successes and challenges of the “muchness” method of teaching. Because that could help countless people, and the planet.

  20. How many other kids have been trapped by the over baring world of “we are right you are wrong” teaching.I wonder what needs to be changed to truly help these kids find a way to express themselves. How many genius minds have been destroyed? I find it funny how the world looks at superior intellect with amusement and folly not understanding that those minds can barely stand to look at most people because they are so incredibly naive, ignorant, hypocritical and savage.

  21. Maybe he can figure out how to bring Blackberry back from the dead.

  22. I hope he doesn’t get recruited like in “a beautiful mind”……….

  23. Flowers for Algernon…

  24. Dear Jacob, may your incredible gift always be used for the good of mankind, and may you come to know your Creator on a personal level. He loves you.

  25. My older son was in a high school class with Jake when he was about…8 or 9. The entire class was slack-jawed when he lit up. His mom looked at what Jacob “could” do – not what he couldn’t and that is part of the story, as is Jacob’s amazingness. Hopefully he will get an opportunity to shed the celebrity aspect and be both a kid and a gift to physics.

  26. GUT-CP

  27. Awesome! I beat bipolar disorder I and went to uni in my 40’s and now doing a PhD at 55. Just did it my way and discovered what was making me ill for decades. Go for it buddy.


  29. Two points here: that intelligence is created. Remember that Marilyn Vos Savant who writes a column in Sunday magazine papers, was the result of her father’s announcement before she was born that he would create a genius. The mom’s total commitment here is obvious. And remarkably she did not stop with her total concentration on Jacob, Wesley had medical problems. All 3 boys have high intelligence.

    Next: that Jacob’s particular skill of total immersion to absorb the concept and be able to retain it fully may be due to his viral ear infection when he was a baby. This concept is displayed in the movie The Borne Legacy where the scientists develop a viral infection to ‘fix’ neronal development.

    The hoped-for result is that this massive memory capability does more than allow him to match existing theories but to produce a theory unique to himself.

  30. I’m a little late here, but better late than never. I do believe that genuine autism is the next step in human evolution. Homo Sapien Aspergerensis. I just hope that Jacob devotes as much time to his spirituality (not a particular religion – though I highly suggest Buddhism and learning about chakras. Tesla mentioned Buddhism long before it was ‘cool’.) as he does schooling. I’m sure he ‘gets it’. The way he refers to ‘the field’ reminds me of ‘the force’ in Star Wars. Canada has more Jedi’s per capita (wink!). I really believe these kids are streaming a higher consciousness………keep reaching for the stars Jacob!

  31. Does jacob follow any kind of religion? Does he believe in God? Why does some people get offended when talking /discussing religious matters? Thank you.

  32. It was found that Einstein didn’t actually have a very high IQ

  33. Drinking water out of a firehose is an expression used at MIT. These PSI folks need to stop stealing our slogan.