Thursday, 7 January 2010

Autistic Genius Finds True Love


Article from The Sun - October 27, 2007


MATHS wizard Daniel Lightwing is one in a million – and he has the figures to prove it.

Sitting in his smart student flat in Cambridge, surrounded by books, he explains the probability of triumphing at the global Maths Olympics.

“To get a medal, the odds are one in a million,” he says, “Yet to get to represent your country in the Olympic Games the odds are only one in 100,000.”

But 20-year-old Daniel not only reached last year’s annual International Mathematical Olympiad in Slovenia, he won silver – and all despite suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome.

The condition, a type of autism, has left him struggling to form emotional bonds with others and unable to perform simple tasks – such as making a cup of tea.

Yet other aspects of his intellect are truly breathtaking, such as his mathematical ability – and becoming a fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese in just FOUR months.

Daniel, now a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, says: “I never felt like I fitted in at school."

“The British don’t celebrate academic success like other, less developed countries, they just label you a geek. Students who are good at sport get all the praise."

“I always felt frustrated at school because I just wanted to learn more and more about maths but because I was good at it, the teachers tried to make me focus on other subjects."

"They didn't understand how I could excel in maths, yet only achieve mediocre grades in other subjects such as English."

Indeed, despite his incredible feat in learning Chinese, Daniel points out that after studying French for eight years through school he still can’t speak a word of it – because it simply doesn’t interest him.

He continues: “I was bored at school, so I started misbehaving. I certainly wasn’t a teacher’s pet. I hadn’t been diagnosed with Asperger’s so they all just presumed I was a trouble maker.”

Daniel’s mum Carolyn had noticed her son was special when at the age of two he was able to recite the alphabet forwards – and backwards.

At four he explained how he could work out how many tiles were on the kitchen ceiling without counting them but by using the equation for area.

Although they were amazed by his incredible maths ability, teacher Carolyn and her husband David, a GP, enjoyed a loving relationship with their son, and so were not immediately aware he could have Asperger's.

The characteristics of the condition mean that sufferers can experience feelings of extreme isolation.

Feeling misunderstood and rejected can lead to very low self-esteem which is usually expressed through anger.

But mild-mannered Daniel, from York, found a way to cope with these problems.

He adds: “I wasn’t bullied but I did shy away from meeting people and playing with the other children. I’m not comfortable in large groups and even as a child I realised I wasn’t the same as the others.”

Although Daniel was incapable of feeling emotion like other children he understood that others did – an ability which may well have helped his condition go undiagnosed for so long.

He says: “I realised the other children in my class would respond differently to situations so I copied them and took it into account when I was with them, but it wasn’t something that came naturally.”

Daniel was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s at 18 when a sixth-form teacher referred him to a specialist. He says it was a great relief finally to understand there was a reason he had always felt different.

It was the fact that Daniel didn’t fit in that led to his interest in China and the Chinese culture of celebrating academic success.

After changing schools more than five times, he decided to take a gap year before university and travel to China.

And in just four months he had taught himself to read, write and speak Mandarin fluently.

Somehow he also found the time to befriend a young Chinese girl, Yan, who was working as a receptionist at the hostel where he was staying.

The friendship blossomed – and six months later the couple married and now live together in Daniel’s Cambridge student digs.

Though it can be hard for Asperger's suffers to form emotional relationships Daniel says that when he saw Yan he knew he was in love.

"I know it sounds cheesy but it was love at first sight. From the moment I saw Yan I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her."

"I would go down to the reception where she worked and pretend to practise my Chinese on her. But really I just wanted to talk to her.

“Yan is the only person who understands me. She has given up so much to come with me to the UK and I appreciate that. I much prefer going out for dinner with my wife than socialising with other students.”

And he adds: “I was interested in China because they are the only country out of all the International Mathematical Olympiad teams to enter where each of the six members wins a gold medal. They have a totally different attitude to learning and achievement so I thought I had a good chance of fitting in there – and I did.

“When I am out and about in England I feel like I stand out. In China I thought that if I did come across weird they’d just put it down to me being a foreigner.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I love China and would consider living there one day with Yan.”

And he adds: “Yan doesn’t judge me because she doesn’t have an understanding of Asperger’s – she just accepts me for who I am.”

© 2009 News Group Newspapers Ltd.

The original article can be found here:


Daniel Lightwing is in some ways a textbook case of Asperger's Syndrome and a person who I can very much relate to. He has some unique abilities yet has difficulty with simple things that many people take for granted, such as making a cup of tea. While I personally can make tea I too find many such simple tasks to be beyond my capabilities, while I am very capable at some things that may well elude others. At school Daniel did very well in subjects such as Maths but struggled with others like English. When I was in school I too had similar difficulties, although any mathematical ability I had has been lost with time and ironically my primary gift is now my creativity, something which is often considered a product of English. Regardless, I understand the difficulties that Daniel faced in school, particularly the way others misunderstood me. Daniel also has difficulty forming emotional bonds, another aspect I can really relate to as, since childhood, I have had great difficulty making friends and even greater difficulty maintaining friendships. I have also had great difficulty dealing with the opposite sex, wanting to meet to form a romantic relationship for a long time but my confidence constantly beaten by several failures with girls I liked, many of them based around misunderstandings on my part, one of the ways in which Aspergers has hindered my social development over the years.

Where I cannot fully relate to Daniel though is in his unique abilities. While I do have some gifts, mine certainly do not compare to his. He learned to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently in just four months. I did Welsh and French in school and while I was pretty good at both while I was doing them, nothing stuck with me, my mind seemingly unable to absorb any second (or third, fourth, and so on...) languages. I also can't even begin to comprehend the level of mathematics ability demonstrated by Daniel. He has a true intellectual gift, one that I could never even dream of having.

Daniel Lightwing is a true inspiration to me, and should be to other Aspies as well. He has unique abilities and has harnessed them to great success in his academic life. He has found true love, something that many Aspies, me in particular, aspire to but have great difficulty in finding. And, most importantly of all, he demonstrates that people with Aspergers are capable of anything, if only we put our minds to it. You can't get much more inspiring than that.

Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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