“…if you fuel a child’s innate spark,it will always point the way to far greater heights than you could ever have imagined.”
This line is part of the conclusion of The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius written by Kristine Barnett about her autistic son, Jake. The book, which has received a fair amount of media attention, recently, is about a mother challenging the system to discover that her son is a prodigy in math and science.
At the age of two, Jake, who had been progressing along a normal developmental path, began to retreat to the point he stopped speaking and interacting with his parents. A year later, he was diagnosed with autism and Barnett and her husband embarked on the numbing, uncertain experience of raising a special needs child.
A few years later, frustrated that Jake was spending countless hours doing futile therapy and not being allowed to enjoy his childhood, Barnett took the matter into her own hands. She started taking Jake to a local pond, playing with him in the water and then lying on the hood of the car looking at the stars. This stargazing encouraged Jake to share his fascination with – and growing knowledge of – astronomy. It also gave birth to Barnett’s philosophy that you need to let children lead the way in their own development.
As I read this book, I began wondering about my parenting philosophy. Granted this book focuses on children with autism, but Barnett believes her approach can benefit all children.
Our daughter, among many interests, is borderline obsessed with hockey. This past summer, along with normal warm weather activities such as golf and sailing camps, she chose to spend two weeks at hockey camps. We spend our weekends – and many school holidays – driving to hockey arenas. I think she knows we would do just about anything to allow her to pursue this passion.
But what about Deane? He really likes a number of things: music (from heavy guitar rock to classical organ), basketball (in particular the Toronto Raptors), riding in the motorboat at the cottage and interacting – especially goofing around – with friends and family.
Given that activities for disabled children are harder to find – especially compared to hockey camps in Canada – it is easy to say we have done pretty well. He’s been to more rock concerts than I have. He has been to a Raptors’ closed practice and our PVR is full of recorded games. The ozone is far worse for the amount of time spent in the motorboat.
But have we let him sink his teeth into anything? Would immersing him in music encourage him to communicate more? How could we feed his interest in a professional basketball team? Is it too late to stimulate this kind of interest in a teenager who above all loves his TV?
I don’t expect to discover that Deane is a genius – I’m not sure I could handle that. I just want to know that I have given him every possible opportunity to soar with his inner spark.