I wonder how many so called neuro-typicals , when relating to people on the Autistic Spectrum, expect them to change to fit into their own ‘neuro-typical’ way of thinking. While those on the Spectrum must work hard to learn the 'norms' of those who are not, I wonder how often neuro-typicals take time to explore the ‘world’ from the perspective of someone with Aspergers, for instance? British film director Morgan Matthews, through his work, “X +Y”, helps us to do just that, by giving us much more than just a glimpse into the mind of one boy on the Autistic Spectrum.
Viewers cannot remained unchanged, as they experience the world though Nathan’s mathematical mind, in which numbers, patterns, and lights are dominant. His mother must painstakingly cut his toast into four perfect triangles in the morning, being careful that the spaces between them are equal. Even the servings of prawn balls in his favourite Chinese food must add up to a prime number.
It is not that Nathan is deliberately being difficult – just that all cannot be right in his world without these aspects of his life being ‘just so’. And his particular sensitivities mean that his world can be more overwhelming than many of us can even begin to imagine. This is evident when Nathan, chosen to participate in an International Maths Olympiad, finds himself walking the streets of Hong Kong, a blur of coloured, flashing lights and moving people.
It seems that only Nathan’s father understands his unique language, and successfully engages with him in a mathematical way. Yet, tragically, his father cannot be there as Nathan navigates his way through the beginnings of adulthood. His mother, he felt, was not smart enough to understand his mind, and communication with her is strained.
So, it is more than just Nathan’s world we experience. We can also begin to understand what it is like for parents of those on the Spectrum. In this case, we see a mother, longing to hug and comfort her son, who struggles with this kind of physical human interaction. Yet, she shows incredible love and forbearance as she stands back, all the while searching so earnestly for another way to reach him.
Perhaps my favourite scene in this delicate movie, is when Nathan is struggling with the whole abstract concept of love and loss, and his mother, with everything she has, steps into her son's mind to define it, oh so beautifully, in his mathematical language.
“When somebody loves you”, she explains, “it means they see something in you that they think is worth something - so it sort of adds value to you. But it can be hard when you love someone, and they show no sign of loving you - then it is unequal. Or when someone you love is subtracted from you, it feels like your value is less”.
I cannot recommend this movie more highly. The “neuro-diversity” in our world is finally being appreciated through film, and a greater understanding between us, as diverse as we are, can only move us forward.
(The movie was released on DVD in Australia earlier this year)