Is Love on the Spectrum real? The show’s polarizing reception explained

Love on the Spectrum

ABC’s Love on the Spectrum offered a fresh take on reality dating shows by following “young adults on the autism spectrum explore the unpredictable world of love, dating, and relationships”. The unscripted docuseries was commended for moving past stereotypes and realistically depicting the autism community.

At the same time, reviews from autistic people frame the series to be threading a thin line between representation and exploitation. Some found the depiction wholesome while others viewed it as a show about neurodivergent people made for the neurotypical eye.

Key Points

  • Love on the Spectrum was created by Cian O’Clery as an unscripted docuseries to open conversations about dating and relationships in the autism community.
  • The series was intended to help “bust the myth” about people on the spectrum being disinterested in pursuing intimacy, love, or relationships.
  • Criticized by autistic reviewers for catering to the “neurotypical gaze” and infantilizing the autistic adults on the show.

The series creator Cian O’Clery envisioned the show after learning that “so many people on the spectrum want to find love”

Love on the Spectrum’s producer and director Cian O’Clery had previously worked on unscripted documentary series about disability in his career with shows such as Employable Me and Changing Minds.

Having interacted with numerous young adults on the autism spectrum during filming and spoken with their families, job coaches, psychologists, and autism organizations, O’Clery learned about the difficulties people on the spectrum face in dating.

“One thing really stood out for me: So many people on the spectrum were wanting to find love, but many had never even been on a date in their lives. When you speak to a large number of people whose main desire in life is to have a partner, and they haven’t even been on a date, something isn’t right,” he told Mamamia.

He also found that the topic of dating was rather untouched in the autism community where most of the resources were dedicated to the provision of other important services such as early intervention, childhood programs, work skill development, and finding employment.

“Looking into what help and support there is in Australia for people on the spectrum when it comes to dating and relationships, we found there is almost nothing,” he added.

Love on the Spectrum was intended to normalize neurodiversity and help “bust some of the myths about autism”

As per O’Clery, one of the intentions of Love on the Spectrum was to dispel some of the widespread misconceptions about autism – the most common being the notion that autistic people are generally disinterested in romance and relationships.

“I wanted to help bust some of the myths about autism – one of the biggest being that people on the spectrum aren’t interested in love and uninterested in relationships and intimacy,” O’Clery told Fast Company.

In an interview with Autism Awareness Australia, cast member Mark also expressed similar reasons for appearing on the series. He took it as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for him to share his story and struggles in finding love.

“[It also gave me a chance] to show the world and disprove the misconceptions people have about people on the spectrum. I wanted to show that I have the capacity to find love and be in a relationship despite my Autism,” Mark explained.

O’Clery also hoped that the five-part series would help normalize diversity and deconstruct stereotypes of autism as he said:

“The biggest thing for me was realizing the diversity of the spectrum and how unique and different every single person is. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to anyone on the spectrum. You can’t make any assumptions about people.”

The show did not escape criticism as its infantilization of the adult cast did not sit well with the autistic reviewers

Despite the show’s well-meaning purpose to sensitize viewers on the normalcy of neurodivergent people dating, some aspects of the first season were deemed questionable by the autistic reviewers.

For instance, Sara Luterman of Spectrum News found the show to be “riddled with bad advice and frequently infantilizing” as she wrote:

“There are more interviews with parents than with the people the show is ostensibly about. The musical cues would be more appropriate for a documentary about clumsy baby giraffes than for a reality series about adult humans.”

Other autistic reviewers including author Sarah Kurchak and Joseph Stanichar had similar gripes with the show. Its editing style and background score choices did not align with the expected tone of a documentary about adults dating.

“Some of the questions posed seem inappropriate or infantilizing, even down to the tone of voice, and the music is occasionally too cutesy for adults going on dates,” wrote Stanichar for Paste Magazine.

Likewise, YouTuber Yo Samdy Sam criticized the show for catering to the “neurotypical gaze” in her review and found most parts of the narration to be patronizing. Moreover, the therapy advice given by a neurotypical relationship coach to the autistic cast was considered out of touch for focusing on behavioral counseling instead of assisting the cast in forming emotional connections.

Nonetheless, the second season was seen as an improvement upon the first as it featured a more diverse representation of people on the spectrum and showcased the discussions in a more age-appropriate manner.