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The Extraordinary Empathy of a Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform

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If we could get back to 1985, we could more easily see a film called D.A.R.Y.L. about a Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform. A young boy, “conceived in a test tube with a computer brain installed by scientists”, is taken into a foster family and works to understand his social environment. The test tube is long gone (and he has started to exhibit real human emotions), but some of the scientists and their military funders express further interest in him.

I watched this as a kid multiple times; the predictable adventure was exciting enough for me. And in adulthood, D.A.R.Y.L. was the movie I asked my brother to watch with me when I first told him about my Asperger’s diagnosis. (Later, I shared the film Adam when I wanted to talk with someone about Asperger’s.)

The movie summary says “Everyone in town is in awe of young Daryl’s extraordinary talents and abilities.” This is the key reason I share it with this community (and not because it’s a huge blockbuster hit).

At the time, this movie felt unique in it’s handling of extraordinary giftedness. And it had a lasting impact on me.

Every major accomplishment that this kid showed, the people surrounding him were impressed but not fawning, encouraging but not gawking. And he was aware that he was different… without remorse.

What a gift!

The community’s acceptance of him allowed him to joyfully make friends with a neighborhood kid, form attachments, and flourish. He even cared for his foster parents so much that he developed social-emotional algorithms to help with their ease and comfort.

I can imagine that gifted, Aspie, and gifted-Aspie kiddos could also thrive emotionally in such an environment.

Although many of the characters responded skillfully to Daryl, towards the end of the movie, there was an all too familiar example of an adult attempting to impose their social conventions on a divergent youngster.

There is an uninspiring display of typical empathy instruction: “Can you imagine how he must feel?” To that I say, “Perhaps… and can you imagine what it must feel like to have people always trying to teach you empathy when they apparently don’t understand you?”

This robot kid inspires me to advocate for those who may have faced behavioral therapies instead of dignity-based conversation. He is highly coachable and eager to learn.

Often, these kids have more imagination and empathy than the adults coaching them. They may struggle in how to express that in a way that others can take in, but the empathy is there.

Imagine, if you will, that these kids have profound empathy. Ask them for help in understanding. Humble yourselves, adults. Be curious.

Start with a micro-validation of whatever observation they are clinging to. Yes, you want them to move on.  Movement happens more quickly with validation, even a micro-validation. (I’ll go into this a lot more in my upcoming book with GHF Press).

Daryl’s buddy Turtle has it right, seeing through to the robot kid’s humanity. He exclaims, “They are listening to all that scientific crap about you?!”

ghf blog hop - gifted in reel lifeD.A.R.Y.L. is another movie about artificial intelligence striving for natural charm. The kid pulls it off.

Be sure and check out some of the other articles in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop, Gifted in REEL Life

And let me know in the comments below: do you remember the movie, D.A.R.Y.L.? Or are there other movies you know that manage to successfully pull off extraordinary empathy for extraordinary minds?

{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies January 19, 2015, 10:50 am

    “Profound empathy”— I love it! I will have to check out this film as I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it. Looking forward to your book!

  • Pamela @RedWhiteandGrew January 19, 2015, 12:38 pm

    I remember the name D.A.R.Y.L. but don’t think I ever saw the show. Must check it out. Thanks, Bob.

    • byamtich January 19, 2015, 3:22 pm

      Yay! I’m glad to add an element of time travel to this blog hop.

  • Nicole Linn January 19, 2015, 2:11 pm

    “This robot kid inspires me to advocate for those who may have faced behavioral therapies instead of dignity-based conversation. ” I wish the world had more therapists like you, Bob. You inspire me.

    • byamtich January 19, 2015, 3:24 pm

      Awesome! I’m excited to share your guest post about your own path through the hurdles of Marriage and Family Therapy licensure. Whatever supplemental education and experience you choose, I trust you will continue to do solid work.

  • Stacey January 19, 2015, 2:18 pm

    “Impressed but not fawning, encouraging but not gawking” – what a gift, indeed! Will have to check this one out!

    • byamtich January 19, 2015, 3:28 pm

      We spend so much time fighting for the basics, educating adults about how to respond to gifted kids. I want to raise the bar.

  • Amy Golden Harrington January 19, 2015, 3:10 pm

    “This robot kid inspires me to advocate for those who may have faced behavioral therapies instead of dignity-based conversation. He is highly coachable and eager to learn.”
    Dignity-based conversation…really it is all about authentic acceptance versus belittling or pathologizing, right? Dignity for all.

  • Elizabeth Z January 19, 2015, 7:54 pm

    I remember the movie “D.A.R.Y.L.” fondly! And I think it’s high time I get a copy from the library to show my son. Thanks for reminding me of it!

    “Start with a micro-validation of whatever observation they are clinging to. Yes, you want them to move on. Movement happens more quickly with validation, even a micro-validation.” We all want and need validation, and using even a couple of validating words as a conversation starter makes every conversation easier and instantly more cooperative. I cannot wait for your book, Bob!

    • byamtich January 19, 2015, 8:20 pm

      Yay! It’s amazing how often one detail, one accuracy, can stop a train in its tracks. So much of this work is about finding that specific detail, and surviving the moments before we do. Perhaps, later, we can work on flexible thinking.

  • Paula Prober January 19, 2015, 9:35 pm

    I’d never heard of this movie. Will look it up. I can’t wait to see your book, Bob. When is it due out? What’s it about?

    • byamtich January 19, 2015, 9:38 pm

      Thanks, Paula! It’s rough title is “Effective Communication for Gifted and Twice-Exceptional Families.” My first draft is due to my editor at GHF Press in September of 2015. I will check on the timing.

  • Amy January 19, 2015, 10:02 pm

    Hmm…this movie sounds vaguely familiar, but I will definitely have to watch it now.

    • byamtich January 20, 2015, 12:35 am

      Cool! It’s rated PG, and has Barret Oliver, the same actor who played Bastian in the NeverEnding Story (1984).

  • Kathleen January 19, 2015, 11:39 pm

    Yet another great post on a movie I will have to check out. Your reviews are awesome. Thanks Bob.

  • Jo Freitag January 20, 2015, 5:19 am

    I have not seen D.A.R.Y.L. but I think, judging by your great post, I would enjoy it!
    Some movies on similar themes I have enjoyed are Bicentennial Man, I, robot and Short Circuit

    • byamtich January 20, 2015, 4:21 pm

      Love Short Circuit! This is my first news about Bicentennial Man, and I’m looking forward to checking it out.

  • Daniel Lindenberger January 20, 2015, 8:17 am

    Thanks for the great memories (D.A.R.Y.L. was definitely an impactful movie for me growing up as well), and lovely insights into its relevance.

    I haven’t watched it in a LONG time, and will have to go back and see it again with my current eyes!

  • Angela Abend January 26, 2015, 11:17 am

    “Perhaps… and can you imagine what it must feel like to have people always trying to teach you empathy when they apparently don’t understand you?”
    That, right there, says it all …

    • byamtich January 26, 2015, 11:33 am

      Thanks! I sometimes joke, “Is your theory of mind that my mind can’t understand your mind”?

  • Vanessa May 27, 2016, 10:29 am

    “…dignity-based conversation”
    That’s it! That’s exactly it. Two people could say the exact same thing… One is pleasant, the other mildly annoyed or condescending… Same words, two totally different outcomes. Dignity-based conversation explains that in a succinct way! Thank you!

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