Asperger teenager’s inspiring story hits big screen

Daniel Lightwing and his Chinese wife Yan. Daniel has become the first person from the UK to gain an all-expenses-paid scholarship from the Chinese government.
Daniel Lightwing and his Chinese wife Yan. Daniel has become the first person from the UK to gain an all-expenses-paid scholarship from the Chinese government.
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HIS ACHIEVEMENTS in overcoming the challenges of Asperger Syndrome to compete in an international mathematics contest and fall in love have already been seen by millions in a BBC documentary.

And now the story of Daniel Lightwing, a gifted mathematician from Yorkshire, will be shown on the big screen across the world after being made into a film starring Hollywood actors Asa Butterfield and Rafe Spall.

X+Y, which has already been shown at the Toronto Film Festival, has its European premiere tonight in London’s Leicester Square as part of the London Film Festival ahead of a full release next March. The fictional story about a boy named Nathan who suffers from the form of autism and struggles to connect with other people but finds comfort in numbers and mathematics, is inspired by the life of 26-year-old Daniel.

Asa Butterfield, best known for his starring roles in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Hugo, plays the lead character and spent the day with Daniel before filming to help his portrayal of a young man with Asperger Syndrome.

Daniel’s father David, a GP, said: “For Asa this was quite a departure because it is a more subtle performance. From what we have seen he has got Daniel to a tee.

“The difficulties a child with Asperger has in understanding facial expressions, Daniel talks quite openly about that now, when I see Asa acting as Nathan he has really done well. He has captured his idiosyncrasies.”

The film is inspired by the BBC documentary Beautiful Young Minds, which was shown on BBC2 in 2007 and told the story of Daniel and other brilliant teenagers battling it out to become the chosen six selected to represent the UK in the International Maths Olympiad (IMO).

He went on to win a silver medal in the IMO, a test with six questions so difficult that only half of the 500 competitors were able to attempt more than two answers.

The Bafta and Emmy-nominated film followed his year-long quest to become a member of the UK team and his gap-year trip to China, where he met his future wife, Yan. Yan’s difficulties in obtaining a visa and immigration clearance were also captured by the film-makers, and the cameras were present at the couple’s wedding in York in December 2006.

Daniel, originally from Warthill, near York, had problems at school which were only explained after he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum which affects how he relates to others.

He overcame this to graduate with double honours degree in maths and Oriental Studies from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

He has since gone on to work as a programmer for Google and was recently recruited as an IT and marketing manager for the Chinese company Greenland, which is building a 242-metre tall building in Canary Wharf, London, that is set to be the tallest residential building in Europe.

Sally Hawkins plays the part of Nathan’s mother Julie and Rafe Spall and Eddie Marsan play the parts of the maths mentor and the IMO team leader in X+Y, which is released in the UK on March 13.