Parenting

'Love on The Spectrum' Isn't Perfect, But It's Worth Watching

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'Love on The Spectrum' Isn't Perfect, But It's Worth Watching
Netflix

It took me a week or two to convince myself to watch Netflix’s Love on the Spectrum. As the parent of a small child with autism, I am always interested in the experiences of autistic adults. I don’t see a better way to learn how to support my own kid as he gets older than to listen to grown autistic people. I am so grateful for autistic adults who choose to share their experiences online. Nothing is more valuable than a window into lived experience.

I was wary of Love on the Spectrum because I was afraid it would be an ableist nightmare. To be fair, the jury is out on that. I have seen some autistic adults expressing a lot of distaste for the show. I read a couple of articles that expressed very strong opinions about certain aspects of Love on the Spectrum, especially how people reacted to it after watching.

There were also some tweets expressing appreciation for the show, but total frustration for the way the participants have been infantilized online.

Ultimately, after taking in a lot of opinions, I decided I would watch. I kept my eyes open to the imperfections, but in the end, I really enjoyed and appreciated a glimpse into the lives of some young Australian people looking for love.

Before you watch, keep a few things in mind.

Expect to be totally overwhelmed by the sweetness of young love.

Ain’t love grand? There are two couples on the show, and I loved watching them both.

Their love is heartwarming and hopeful. Young love is beautiful, and seeing two people who “get each other” makes for great TV. You can watch just a few minutes of either couple’s interaction and realize how lucky they are to have each other. Love that flows so easily is hard to find.

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Love on the Spectrum is a dating show. You will cringe.

First dates are so awkward. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least one really goofball, uncool first date story, and the people on this show are no exception. It’s so cringey to watch people totally not hitting it off, but that’s what the dating game is all about.

You’ll see how wide the spectrum is.

Keep in mind that people on the autism spectrum are as unique as neurotypical people. You can expect to love some of the participants, find some of them annoying, root for some of them, and lose interest in others. Love on the Spectrum is television.

Just like neurotypical young people, some of the people on the show are very sure about their sexuality and have dated before. Some are still on a self-discovery journey, and a few have not dated in the past.

It’s a true mixed bag.

BUT…

Don’t be tempted to think or talk about this show like there are children on it.

As I was searching for autistic people’s responses to Love on the Spectrum, I found an overwhelming distaste for words like pure, adorable, and cute. I also saw quite a few people repulsed by the way people discuss autistic folks like they are sexless and looking for some kind of childlike companion.

The subjects of this show are adults. Grown people with autonomy who chose to be filmed on their quest for love that includes sexual relationships. Neurotypical people agree to do this all the time.

If you aren’t going to be able to think of them as adults with full capacity to make choices for their futures, exhibit their sexual freedom and express complicated desires, this isn’t the show for you. Using words like “cute” or “pure” infantilizes autistic people in an unfair way.

A few of the cast members approach love in a way that might not resonate with a neurotypical person, but that doesn’t make it childlike or adorable. Different is not less.

This is not representative of the way all autistic people date.

Just like Netflix’s Love is Blind or the Bachelor franchise doesn’t represent most neurotypical people, Love on the Spectrum doesn’t represent most autistic people’s experience. A lot of autistic people have absolutely no trouble finding partners. The speed dating and group activities on the show are not standard in every autistic person’s playbook.

The participants in Love on the Spectrum all seem to have a genuine interest in participating in a very traditional dating scene. They can all be seen brushing up on neurotypical social norms, some even practicing with relationship coaches and family. They all chose other autistic people to date.

This isn’t representative of real life. In real life, couples in which both members are autistic would have no obligation to interact in a way that neurotypical people can relate to. Also, autistic people have relationships with neurotypical people frequently. (Amy Schumer’s husband is on the spectrum, for example.) This is just a tiny group of autistic people letting us in on their journeys — not a comprehensive assessment of how all autistic people function in romantic relationships.

I appreciated a lot of aspects of Love on the Spectrum.

I just love dating shows. Watching people meet is fascinating to me. I think it’s really interesting when anyone lets us in on their journey to find love. Even if I didn’t have a specific interest in learning from autistic adults, I would have wanted to watch this show.

After watching, I felt that the filmmakers truly intended to be respectful to the personhood of every autistic person they followed. I hope the creators of the show will take constructive criticism from autistic adults and make some adjustments before airing a second season.

Ultimately, I would recommend watching. For way too long, the general public has completely misunderstood what it means to be autistic. Any time an autistic adult chooses to share a picture of the totally relatable parts of their life, it’s an opportunity to understand them better. If we support content about autistic people, it can lead to more autistic-centered content. The more we learn, the more we can hopefully change the way the world sees autistic people for the better.

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