Originally broadcast in Australia, Love on the Spectrum is now available to stream on Netflix. With its infinite figure of eight logo, which looks like the symbol for neurodiversity, it’s similar to other dating shows where one particular demographic are on a quest to find love.
But what do members of the Autistic community really think about Love on the Spectrum?
Love among people on the Autistic spectrum has almost become a cultural trend over the past few years. Netflix also produces the coming-of-age drama Atypical, which has faced criticism because the lead character, Sam Gardiner, is Autistic, but is played by someone not on the spectrum. Other criticisms include a lack of nuance and the perpetuating of certain stereotypes.
So, is Love on the Spectrum any different?
Breaking the (heteronormative) mould
Whereas a lot of dating shows have been shy around covering LGBTQ+ matters, Love on the Spectrum ought to be applauded simply for being inclusive in this respect.
A variety of thoughts, opinions and views are reflected, though, and not all of them immediately palatable. Jeff Fullington is based in the US. He told us, "I've seen a lot of criticism of [LOTS participant] Michael for his rigid gender views, but as someone Autistic who works with many other Autistic people and understands the Autistic mind, I could put them in context and did not find them over-offensive – just a little dated."
Kelly and Hester Grainger are a husband-and-wife duo who run PR firm Team Hudia. Kelly was recently diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Initially concerned that the show would exploit the syndrome for the sake of entertainment, he said, "I found it to be a genuine, warm and lighthearted insight into the pursuit and challenges of Autistic people looking for love, something that is a challenge for even neurotypicals."
Hester is not on the spectrum, and initially had reservations about Love on the Spectrum too – because why isn't there a show about, say, dyslexia? She added: "I've been happily married for 12 years to my husband who is Autistic and he can be more thoughtful and romantic than many neurotypical husbands I know!
"It is important to raise awareness and understanding about autism and this show has got it just right. It’s informative, funny and most importantly, heartwarming."
Date A Neurotypical, Date Like A Neurotypical
Criticism of the show sometimes takes aim at the 'neurotypical' format – because Autistic individuals are expected to conform to a standard that people not on the spectrum set, despite not necessarily being able to.
An Autistic person may struggle or be unable to make eye contact – and studies have sometimes suggested they may feel pain on doing so. Why does an Autistic person have to change who they are, and mask one of their hallmarks, to be seen as "acceptable" while beginning to date?
Janneke Baarda is based in the Netherlands. She felt uncomfortable on watching, expressed dislike that the cast are taught to date in a neurotypical way and questioned why the cast only met other Autistic potential partners.
Masking is a hallmark that some individuals have when on the spectrum – it could be described as an invisible mask, to 'pass' and not draw attention to their being Autistic. This is often through copying or mimicking the neurotypical. However, in some contexts, this behaviour can be more harmful than helpful.
And why are parents involved?
As an Autistic person myself, I had to question why the parents of the cast members are involved in the process, aside from creating that fly-on-the-wall feel, or to be on hand should an individual need help in terms of care.
Isn't that's something we'd be more likely to do with a friend? (Or even over a Zoom call, due to the lockdown restrictions). The parents were getting involved when the topic was not to do with them, making this aspect less illuminating than was presumably intended.
What Love on the Spectrum got right
April Ryan is a journalist. A co-founder of Empoword Journalism, she has a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. Noting Autism has previously been treated as an "undesirable" facet, she said she felt worried when beginning to watch Love On The Spectrum.
"It was comical, joyous, and laughed with the stars of the show, rather than at their expense. It's a world of difference, and I think it gives neurotypical individuals a window of opportunity, demonstrating that we're not 'unfeeling', 'robotic', and all the other terms I heard on the dating scene"
While Love on the Spectrum gets a lot wrong, it also gets a lot right – by ensuring the cast are treated as human beings rather than commercial entities. And, at last, the portrayal of what it's like to be Autistic is going in the right direction.
Love on the Spectrum is available on Netflix.
Digital Spy has launched its first-ever digital magazine with exclusive features, interviews, and videos. Access this edition with a 1-month free trial, only on Apple News+.
Interested in Digital Spy's weekly newsletter? Sign up to get it sent straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like