Film Gives a New Perspective on Autism

autism film x + y

The 2014 movie X + Y follows a young teenage boy’s journey through the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).

Nathan, the main character, is described as being socially awkward and having difficulty with the relationships in his life. It is soon discovered that he has a brilliant gift with numbers and is selected to be a competitor on the British team. The story goes on to follow his experiences with new challenges, particularly working to gain a better understanding of the nature of love.

It was inspired by the BBC television documentary Beautiful Young Minds where director Morgan Matthews takes you through the selection process and training for the competitors. Most of the young men on the team had some form of autism but excelled in mathematics. One in particular, Daniel Lightwing, was the focus and inspiration for X + Y.  As a child he struggled tremendously with the pressure from his parents and teachers to be social and “normal.” At the age of 16 he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a syndrome that falls within the autism spectrum. Thereafter his parents realized that he simply had different strengths.

Once Lightwing found competitive math things got a lot better for him. His self-confidence and self-respect increased. In that environment he was able to relate to others more than he did in school or even his own family.

Soon after college he lived in China for some time where his academic achievements were held in high regard. He then landed a job at Google but encountered many struggles with social interactions. During his time there, he avoided others as much as possible. On the rare times he did participate, he was rejected.

Lightwing believes that the film is powerful in the way it portrays his experience with Asperger’s syndrome. It shows that there are many types of people in the world who are valuable and can contribute great things to society.

by Raiza Belarmino