Gênio trabalhando: menino de 12 anos (levemente autista) se propõe refutar a teoria do Big Bang

domingo, abril 10, 2011

Genius at work: 12-year-old is studying at IUPUI

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When Jacob Barnett first learned about the Schrödinger equation for quantum mechanics, he could hardly contain himself.

For three straight days, his little brain buzzed with mathematical functions.

Source/Fonte: The Blaze

From within his 12-year-old, mildly autistic mind, there gradually flowed long strings of pluses, minuses, funky letters and upside-down triangles -- a tapestry of complicated symbols that few can understand.

He grabbed his pencil and filled every sheet of paper before grabbing a marker and filling up a dry erase board that hangs in his bedroom. With a single-minded obsession, he kept on, eventually marking up every window in the home.

Strange, say some.

Genius, say others.

But entirely normal for Jacob, a child prodigy who used to crunch his cereal while calculating the volume of the cereal box in his head.

"Whenever I try talking about math with anyone in my family," he said, "they just stare blankly."

So do many of his older classmates at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who marvel at seeing this scrawny little kid in the front row of the calculus-based physics class he has been taking this semester.

"When I first walked in and saw him, I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to school with Doogie Howser,' " said Wanda Anderson, a biochemistry major, referring to a television show that featured a 16-year-old boy-genius physician.

Elementary school couldn't keep Jacob interested. And courses at IUPUI have only served to awaken a sleeping giant.

Just a few weeks shy of his 13th birthday, Jake, as he's often called, is starting to move beyond the level of what his professors can teach.

In fact, his work is so strong and his ideas so original that he's being courted by a top-notch East Coast research center. IUPUI is interested in him moving from the classroom into a funded researcher's position.

"We have told him that after this semester . . . enough of the book work. You are here to do some science," said IUPUI physics Professor John Ross, who vows to help find some grant funding to support Jake and his work.

"If we can get all of those creative juices in a certain direction, we might be able to see some really amazing stuff down the road."

"My fear was that he would never be in our world"

Teenage college student?

Developer of his own original theory on quantum physics?

Paid researcher at 13?

This is not what Jake's parents expected from a child whose first few years were spent in silence.

"Oh my gosh, when he was 2, my fear was that he would never be in our world at all," said Kristine Barnett, 36, Jake's mother.

"He would not talk to anyone. He would not even look at us."

Child psychologists assessed Jake at the time and diagnosed behavioral characteristics of a borderline autistic child. He was impaired, they said, and had a lack of "spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment," difficulty showing emotion and interacting with others.

Diagnosis: mildly autistic.

"My biggest fear," his mom said last week, with tears welling up in her eyes, "was that he had lost the ability to say, 'I love you' to us."

By age 3, Jake was the focus of a more intense evaluation from a team of psychologists, therapists and a diagnostic teacher.

Their report indicated that while Jake continued to struggle with social activities and physical development, he was showing signs of academic skills that were above his age level.

Diagnosis: Asperger's syndrome, a somewhat milder condition related to autism.

After hearing this, Jake's parents decided to pay closer attention to the things their first-born son was doing -- rather than the things he was not.

For example, Jake often recited the alphabet -- forward and then backward. He used Q-tips to create vivid geometrical shapes on the living room floor. He solved 5,000-piece puzzles (rather quickly). And he once soaked in a state road map and ended up memorizing every highway and license plate prefix.

And perhaps most amazingly, he could recite the mathematical constant pi out to 70 digits.

"I'm at 98 now," Jake said, interrupting his mom during an interview.

And then, a week later, he was up to 200 digits after the decimal point -- forward and backward.
At 3, his head was in the stars

The Barnetts decided it was time to follow Jake's lead, adopting a method that some parents of children with autism use -- floor-time therapy -- to help foster developmental growth. They let their children focus intently on subjects they like, rather than trying to conform them to "normal" things.

For Jake, that meant astronomy. As a 3-year-old, he loved looking at a book about stars, over and over again.

So off they went on a tour of the Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium at Butler University.

Kristine Barnett will never forget the day.

"We were in the crowd, just sitting, listening to this guy ask the crowd if anyone knew why the moons going around Mars were potato-shaped and not round," she recalls. "Jacob raised his hand and said, 'Excuse me, but what are the sizes of the moons around Mars?' "

The lecturer answered, and "Jacob looked at him and said the gravity of the planet . . . is so large that (the moon's) gravity would not be able to pull it into a round shape."


"That entire building . . . everyone was just looking at him, like, 'Who is this 3-year-old?' "

After that, the Barnetts began to feed Jake's hunger for knowledge, through more books and more visits to the planetarium. By the time he was 8, he got permission to sit in on an advanced astronomy class at IUPUI.

Meanwhile, his math skills were reaching astronomical levels.

By the time he was in fifth grade, Jake had become bored with elementary math. He was a student, first at Carey Ridge Elementary School and then at Westfield Intermediate School, an experience he now says he enjoyed for a while.

"The first couple of years were great, but then eventually the math started being, like, OK, we've been discussing this for a while, and it really isn't that hard," Jake said. "Can I move on to calculus now? Can I move on to algebra now?"

The boredom did not go unnoticed at home. Jake was coming home from school quiet, huddling in a safe space in the house and starting to show signs of withdrawing.

"I was really afraid we were going to lose him back into the world he was in when he was 2," his mom said.

Frank Lawlis, a Texas-based psychologist who serves as a testing supervisor for the American Mensa organization -- a society for geniuses -- said it would not have been unusual for a child with symptoms of autism to regress backward after a brief time of growth.

"One of the aspects of autism is that these kids' brains grow at an accelerated rate and then, generally speaking, there is kind of a reversal that happens," said Lawlis, who last year wrote "The Autism Answer," a book for parents of children with autism.

"The theory is that the brain reaches a certain capacity, can't grow, becomes inflamed, and then a reversal effect occurs. It's just a theory, but it's very common."

That did not happen to Jake, thanks in part to a third psychological evaluation done nearly two years ago. It showed that this fifth-grader was not regressing but was simply bored and needed to be stimulated -- in a very big way.

As in dropping out of school.

"Indeed, it would not be in Jacob's best interest to force him to complete academic work that he has already mastered," clinical neurophysiologist Carl S. Hale, Merrillville, said in a report provided by the Barnetts.

"He needs work at an instructional level, which currently is a post college graduate level in mathematics, i.e., a post master's degree. In essence, his math skills are at the level found in someone who is working on a doctorate in math, physics, astronomy and astrophysics."

The Barnetts were blown away. They knew Jake was smart, but doctorate-level smart?

"I flunked math," Kristine said with a laugh. "I know this did not come from me."

Read more here: IndyStar