Of Jake Barnett–a math prodigy with autism on track to begin doctoral studies at age 14– Morley Safer remarked: “he may not be the tallest student on campus, but he’s surely one of the brightest.” This 60 Minutes video (not embeddable, unfortunately) was posted in 2012 but is very worth revisiting for its striking demonstration of autistic aptitude. Here’s another demonstration of Jake’s aptitude– a fragment of the equations he writes over any available surface (even his bedroom windowpanes):
Like Owen, Jake underwent a period of regression around his third birthday, losing his ability to speak. Over time, his parents noticed that math (contrary to the typical response it provokes!) made Jake feel at ease.
As 60 Minutes recounts, “By fifth grade, he dropped out of public school, and just to show that he was ready, taught himself all of high school math in just two weeks.”
What does Jake think about his autism? As he said to 60 Minutes, “It’s the reason why I care. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
The notion that children with autism can genuinely “care” about anything, given how much they often struggle with empathy, has traditionally been anathema. As the stories of Owen, Jake, and many others tell us, though, those with autism have the same desire to connect as any other person– they just may do so in ways that initially appear unorthodox.
Here’s Jake at TedXTeen:
We can’t wait to see what’s next from Jake.