Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for the show Love on the Spectrum.
Love on the Spectrum is a reality dating show filmed in Australia featuring a number of autistic people who are looking for romantic partners. The first season, originally released in Australia in 2019, and elsewhere in 2020, is comprised of five episodes which follow a number of autistic participants as they go on first dates and try to find a match. The show also features several established autistic couples. The show has received a mixed reception from autistic reviewers.
The premise of the show – that autistic people can and want to seek love and companionship just as non-autistic people do – is already an improvement on much of the mainstream non-fiction television about us which tends to forget we are full human beings. Autistic people are often depicted by the media as being unfeeling and devoid of the ability to love. This is a highly offensive take. This show is excellent in its refutation of that stereotype, and for allowing autistic people to talk openly and be proud of their autism and of who they are.
Parts of the show that made me really happy were: seeing Olivia’s theatre company for people with disabilities. As someone who loved drama growing up, I wish I had somewhere like that and I was so happy she has that. Also, Jessica bringing a Nintendo Switch to her date with Kevin. I actually think that’s a very innovative way for autistic people to get to know each other on a date, much better than awkward dinners in a restaurant.
The representation of other disabilities on the show is one of the highlights. Love on the Spectrum features a Deaf autistic woman and an autistic person using crutches, among other disabilities. Though while it is good disability representation, the same cannot be said for queer representation or the representation of people of colour. Of the main participants only one is non-white, and only one date is between two women.
The vast majority of the autistic participants on this show were lovely people who I hope are doing well in their lives now, but there was one notable exception – Michael. The first two episodes partly feature a 25-year-old autistic man called Michael, who makes some rather sexist comments. Autism is not an excuse for misogyny, not now, not ever. I have had experiences in the past with autistic men feeling entitled to my body as an autistic woman, and that the show featured these attitudes in the first episodes hurt me.
When asked his greatest dream in life, Michael responds: “to become a husband.” On the surface, there is nothing actually wrong with this statement, but to me, it made me raise my eyebrows a little – a hint of fear that this was someone who could become obsessive about their partner, to a disturbing degree. Alone, this is not cause for concern. My concerns started when, while speaking with his family over food, he claims girls around his sisters age only want boyfriends for “intercourse”, being a “bodyguard” or as a “sugar daddy”.
Here is a prime example of someone with unhealthy opinions about woman, that they somehow ‘use’ men for their money. His family not only does nothing to counter these attitudes, they seem happy to encourage it. After segments featuring other participants, Michael returns to discuss what his attitude towards a future wife would be. “She would be pretty much my most valuable and greatest treasure of all time.” Sounds sweet… if it wasn’t phrased in a way that made this hypothetical woman sound like a piece of property.
When describing what he wants in a woman to his mother and someone behind the camera, he says that he doesn’t want anybody “gothic… or tomboyish… or practically any girl that acts like she’s still in high school”. He seems incredibly picky, which is everyone’s right on partners, but he also seems to want someone who will act traditionally girly and will not talk back.
To top it off, he gives his reasons for not wanting children: “I have a feeling that having children will ruin my chances of becoming wealthy.” This is not related to the sexism complaints, but he is clearly extremely capitalist which is another red flag by my estimation. He then talks about “allowing” his future wife to have children despite the harm it will do to his wealth. How generous (sarcasm, because we autistics can use that).
The professional relationship specialist, Jodi Rogers, is also another low point for this show. Despite all the participants being autistic, and going on dates with other autistic people, she teaches people to mask: to hide their autism and put on a fake act of being neurotypical on dates. A neurotypical professional teaching autistic people to hide their true selves is always wrong in my mind, but to do this when trying to get them to meet other autistic people is counterproductive as well. Acting fake on a first date is the wrong way to start.
One other concerning point of Love on the Spectrum is the amount of time given to the parents of some participants. This is a dating show, and on a dating show about neurotypical people, this much airtime would not be given to parents, who really have no right being involved in their adult children’s dating lives. The focus on parents is infantilising of autistic people.
A good thing this show is doing is that the producers have seemed willing to take the feedback of autistic viewers on board for the second season. This is what producers of other autism-related shows should be doing, and gives me great hope for the future. Love on the Spectrum has excellent potential, and with just a few tweaks could really help change public attitudes towards autistic people. I look forward to the next season.