Jake: Math prodigy proud of his autism

At age two, Jake Barnett was diagnosed with autism and his future was unclear. Now at age 13, Jake is a college sophomore and a math and science prodigy. Jake says his autism is key to his success.

Safer: What did your fellow students make of you?

Jake Barnett: Everyone was thinking that Mom was taking the class and she couldn't find a babysitter.

Kristine Barnett: The students thought I was the student.

His parents Kristine and Michael Barnett expected their son would quietly listen and learn, but even they were shocked when Jake jumped right into scientific discussions.

Kristine Barnett: The professor would ask questions and Jake was answering them. And then he took the final at the end and got an A on it and suddenly the people at the university took notice of that and eventually invited him to attend the university.

Safer: That's pretty shocking, when an eight-year-old aces a university astronomy course. Weren't you impressed?

Jake Barnett: I guess I was impressed. I was just doing what I like to do.

No one could have predicted that Jake would even make it to college. Just before his second birthday he began to regress, stopped speaking and making eye contact. After consulting with several doctors the diagnosis was autism.

Michael Barnett: We went through speech therapy, physical therapy, developmental therapy, occupational therapy. Therapists came to the home.

Kristine Barnett: He was going further and further from our world into a world of his own. And I really was just baffled at how we were going to get him back out of that world.

Safer: And how did you get him, back out of that world?

Kristine Barnett: We realized that Jacob was not happy unless he was doing something he loved.

Which even as a three-year-old was math and science. His parents say the more he focused on the subjects he loved the more he began to communicate.

Kristine Barnett: You could just see him just relax. You could just see him feel like, "Thank goodness we're not working on something that I can't do today.

Safer: And how long did it take for him to, as you say, come back?

Michael Barnett: By the time he was kindergarten age; five, six. He was still behind as far as speaking with others and socializing with others, but he was also light years ahead of everybody else. He was coming home asking us, "When am I gonna learn something at school today? I want to learn algebra."

It was trying to keep Jake challenged that led to a kind of double life. Elementary school by day and sitting in on college courses in the evening. By fifth grade, he dropped out of public school and just to demonstrate that he was ready for college, he taught himself all of high school math in just two weeks. He was 10 years old.

Kristine Barnett: That was the most determined thing I've ever seen anybody do. He had to sit in a calculus class to prove to the university that he could sit still. And Jacob was like, "I'm gonna participate in that class discussion. So if I need to learn algebra one, algebra two, geometry, trig, that's what I'm gonna do." And he took a stack of books, and he sat down, and he just--

Michael Barnett: Went and taught himself. All of it in two weeks.

Not only that, he finished the entire state of Indiana curriculum for grades 6-12 in a little over a year.

The Barnetts, who have started a center for autistic kids called Jacob's Place, say that many of Jake's symptoms of autism have disappeared.

Michael Barnett: There are certain traits that are still there. And if you really, really knew what you were lookin' for, you could dig 'em out. But otherwise, you know, that-- I got--ten-year-old kid at that point in time that just happens to be doing next level work and no one knew anything different.

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