EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 6, 2014

Tinkering and exploring may be the way to a great invention

Family Matters
Dr. Larry Larsen

---- — Dear Doctor,

We have a son, eleven, who has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome or on the spectrum. He is always talking about being an inventor. He loves to tinker and fool around with tools and wires. He loves the computer. He does OK in school, but he could do a lot better. We don’t want to ruin his desire to explore, but we worry about his being able to survive unless he gets more serious about school. He is also a love. What can we do to help him?


Dear Worried,

“Being serious about school” and “survival” are probably not highly correlated.

Your son has a gift, as did so many important people in our history. Einstein had it, as did Edison. Neither would have made it into Harvard. Both did not do especially well in school. Both had the gift of vision and creativity. Both may have been “on the spectrum,” which may not mean much of anything.

Why don’t you cultivate this gift? Forget the school curriculum. Your son will probably acquire what he needs and go for what he loves somewhere along the way. I am a big fan of an old hero, Chester Greenwood. Chester was born in Farmington, Maine. When he was fifteen, he invented the ear muff. He put it together with wire and fur muffs his grandmother sewed for him. Chester went on to invent quite a few things including car springs, a special steel rake, traps and other oddities.

Around the turn of the century Chester wrote a piece on being an inventor. He said every child in America should have a work shop with a special place to tinker and tease the imagination. Today we have replaced imagination with video games and many gadgets. See if you can encourage time to dream, imagine and invent.

Have a special place for your son’s “stuff.” Have some wire, safe tools, batteries and even plumbing fittings.

Encourage him to sketch his ideas. Have a “idea book” for him. DaVinci thought this was very important.

Teach him to be authentic and to make certain his ideas are relevant, real and can work.

Give him the knowledge and experiences to help him along the way. There are resources out there. Find them.

Teach him about the lives of inventive and contributing people.

Have hope. He may be taking care of you in your old age!


Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, you can email him at lrryllrsn@CS.com.