@alzie For me, it was the tiny, working model of a steam engine that powered a play sausage making machine--no kidding! I didn't take it apart, but it had a heavy influence on me becoming a mechanical engineer.
@visi_guy: Thanks for your post. I hope your son can find some relief. He has an extra burden to carry when he goes off to school but it's good he knows about it now and is getting treatment. It understand how incomprensible it is. It's amazing how little we know about how the brain works, but as time (and research) goes on, I'm sure we'll know more about these disorders and have better treatments.
I just finished reading the book Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith, about the author coming to terms with his anxiety disorder and how he gradually learns to cope with it. I recommend it. His website is here.
On a hopeful note, Hugh Herr, the MIT Media Lab professor, gave a keynote at EE Times's DESIGN West in which he postulated that one day electronic devices will provide "cleaner" treatment for these conditions your son, and millions of others, have. By "cleaner" he meant fewer, or no, side effects compared with pharmaceutical treatments. It was a hopeful speech. Maybe your children will be part of that solution.
Thanks for you post. Interesting your youthful fascination with sprinkler systems and how it indicates that the engineering gene (not the farming gene) was part of your neurbiological inheritance. Makes a lot of sense.
My father was always tinkering with the sprinklers but it never occurred to me it was because he was fascinated by them. It seemed more like he was doing battle with them. (Perhaps it was just the clay soil he was doing battle with.)
This article is merely observations of his behavior. Every parent watches their children and gets to know and predict their behavior. Also, every parent pushes their inner desires on their children, because our desires are for them to thrive and succeed in life. I don't care if he gets an engineering degree, I'm just noting that he has these tendencies.
I taught my son HTML programming when he was 11 (back in 1995 when it wasn't so common). Soon he was running circles around me and critiquing my coding practices. However, it was when he was 15 and watched me prototyping an invention that a brief time away from my desk resulted in Alex creating an animated demonstration far superior to my static one. Furthermore, he identified a gap in the concept and invented the solution. In due course, a joint patent application was filed and the patent issued just after his 21st birthday. As a result, there have been 4 generations of patent holding inventors in my family: great-grandfather, grandfather, myself (with 49), and my son. Only my father (Prof. Willard Van Orman Quine) is missing - and he was a renowned philosopher and mathematician at Harvard University for 65 years. I guess each generation just inspires another.
It was fairly obvious that I was going to be an engineer when I was taking my toys aprt to see how they worked, and then putting them back together and they worked. And having a strong interest in how things went together and how they worked, not just in what they did. Then inventing all kinds of things that did work, but I was not that skilled as an 9 year old. But I could build all kinds of circuits with relays and not pop fuses, which was quite a skill. All of that with a good reading ability and I was into all of the adult technical stuff at the library, and having to argue with the librarians because of trying to check out technical books when I "should have stayed in the childrens section". But I was always able to read about things that I could not afford to buy, and may not have been able to work with, at ages 10 and 11. But reading is a much safer way to explore a lot of technology than putting hands on it. Books seldom give shocks, start fires, or explode. But A kid who reads can learn a whole lot.