Autistic Teen Garners Nobel Prize Consideration for Work In Quantum Physics

An autistic teenager has been “tipped” for a Nobel Prize. Jacob Barnett is earning his masters in Quantum Physics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), with research that has garnered him consideration for a Nobel Prize. Oh, did I mention that Jacob is only 14? Jacob was diagnosed with autism at the age of two when he exhibited regressive behavior, losing communicative and social skills. Doctors believed Jacob would need special education and accommodations for life and would likely never be able to read. Despite the severe diagnoses, Jacob’s parents paid special attention to Jacob’s behavior, noticing that he was particularly happy when doing something meticulous, like counting, and disinterested with typical toddler activities. His mother, Kristine Barnett explained, in a 60 minutes feature on Jacob, that her and her husband engaged Jacob in the activities he liked after school and saw unbelievable progress. By kindergarten, Jacob was still behind his peers communicatively and socially, but, according to his father, he would return home and ask when he would get “to learn algebra.” By the third grade, Jacob, accompanied by Kristine, was auditing college calculus. The mother-son-duo laugh about the experience explaining how other students were surprised when Jacob would participate, believing that Kristine was enrolled and unable to find a babysitter. At the end of the course, Jacob requested to take the exam, and upon earning an ‘A’ was offered a full scholarship to IUPUI. In preparation for starting college before the age of 10, Jacob taught himself all of high school math in two weeks. Today, at 14-years-old, Jacob is earning his masters and conducting research that has put him in the running for one of the world’s most coveted prizes. He is thought to have an IQ equal to or greater than that of Albert Einstein.

Throughout all of this success and the attention, Jacob attributes his academic trajectory to the autistic experience, discrediting the ideas of “genius” and “savant.” In his presentation for TEDxTeen, Jacob encourages divergent thinking, telling the audience to “stop learning and start thinking.” He believes his interest and aptitude in math and science was born out of boredom as he was forced to “stop learning” when placed into a public special education program. While he was treated as disabled, he focused on “shapes and shadows” and considered large-scale theories of physics, soon proving himself differently-abled. His parents observed this difference and fostered his specific strengths. Today, Jacob’s autism diagnosis is barely visible, though, he asserts, he still has difficulty tying his shoes.

In order to succeed you have to look at everything with your own unique perspective. Okay, what does that mean? That means that when you think you must think in your own creative way, not accepting everything out there.

Jacob Barnett, TEDxTeen

At Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, our care is specialized. We are dedicated to identifying and fostering the strengths of our children. We facilitate and encourage open communication between all caregivers (parents, teachers, therapists, and physicians) so that individuals’ strengths do not slip through the cracks. Jacob Barnett’s advice is valuable for society’s larger understanding of learning and ability, as well as the subsequent implementation of inclusion.