Autism is one of the least understood conditions and Jacob Barnett is the perfect example of never giving up hope.
Jacob Barnett is an American mathematician and child prodigy. At 8 years old, Jacob began sneaking into the back of college lectures at IUPUI. After being diagnosed with autism at the age of two and placed in his school’s special ed. program, Jacob’s teachers and doctors were astonished to learn he was able to teach calculus to college students.
At age nine, while playing with shapes, Jacob built a series of mathematical models that expanded Einstein’s field of relativity. A professor at Princeton reviewed his work and confirmed that it was groundbreaking and could someday result in a Nobel Prize.
Barnett was diagnosed with autism at age two. Despite the odds, Jacob found a love for the field of theoretical physics which helped to draw him out of his silent world.
Jacob, a math and science prodigy, eventually enrolled at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at the age of 10 and was admitted to a one-year non-degree master’s level program at Ontario’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in 2013. He completed that program in 2014and is currently a doctoral student at the Perimeter Institute where he is currently researching Loop Quantum Gravity and Quantum Foundations.
Jacob is a published scientific researcher who says his autism is the key to his success. His IQ of 170 is believed to be higher than that of Albert Einstein, and he asserts that one day he may disprove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
All of this flies in the face of early assessments. Diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 2, his parents were told by doctors that he would likely never learn to talk or read and would forever be unable to manage basic daily activities.
Canadian news site Macleans offered the following background in an article accompanied by the second clip, below:
When he was a toddler, almost as soon as he had learned to talk, Jacob stopped speaking for a year and a half. He seemed unable to perform the basic tasks an average child could do. Specialists diagnosed him as severely autistic. One special-education instructor told Kristine Barnett she might as well stop giving Jacob alphabet flashcards, because he would never read. Kristine Barnett didn’t give up. Soon it became clear that, while he faced serious developmental challenges, Jacob Barnett had lashes of astonishing insight…Today, Jacob Barnett is a pale, quietly charming young man with an intellectual gift few of us can begin to comprehend. His arrival at the Perimeter Institute is the next step in an extraordinary intellectual journey.
The Macleans article also includes some fascinating insights from an interview they conducted with Jacob. For instance, asked about the opportunity to work along with other brilliant students at the Perimeter Institute, he responded:
Being different has its advantages and it has its disadvantages. Its advantages: you’re obviously able to excel at a much higher level than your colleagues. When I was at university, I was able to take a lot of different courses at a time because they were built for people who weren’t as fast as me. And I could still succeed very well. I’d say one of the disadvantages is that it’s harder to learn from people; a lot of the learning you have to do pretty much on your own.That’s one of the great things about here: I get to work with other people. And we’re actually on a similar level. I really like that.
You can watch his TEDxTeen Talk in the clip below, followed by a video of Jacob and his mother, Kristine Barnett, discussing autism, quantum physics and their project “The Spark.” (You might note that his TedX Teen Talk has been viewed over 9 million times.)