Autistic Prodigy Jake Barnett on 60 Minutes
This 60 Minutes feature on 13-year-old physics prodigy Jacob Barnett was one of my favorite pieces of television journalism about an autistic person:
Jake has a full scholarship at the joint Indiana University Purdue campus in Indianapolis where he is an honors student in math and physics. He may not be the tallest student on campus, but is surely among the brightest. He regularly gets the highest grades in his classes.
I loved seeing Jake, who was one of my 50 Inspiring Autistic People of 2011 being his cool, quirky, autistic self-- I can't wait to read the book he is writing about math! I am very happy that a network audience got to see the joy and pride he takes in his intelligence and his autism.
The reporting here is also very positive, in both good and bad ways. There is little of the offensive language about autistic people that is common in television stories about us (as in this very recent 20/20 segment). However, Jacob's disabilities also may be glossed over a little-- his parents believe that many of his autistic symptoms have disappeared and his father Michael says:
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.
I know some people are offended when savants are shown on TV because they think it reinforces the stereotype that all autistic people have Rain Man magical powers. But I think savants are cool, and I'm proud to be a little like them. They get to be on TV a lot because they are incredibly good at something-- the reason professional athletes and musicians are on TV. Relax and enjoy.