‘Love On The Spectrum’ Is A Huge Moment For Autism Visibility
Love On The Spectrum has become one of Australia’s most talked about TV series of the year.
The show follows seven single people with Autism navigating the tricky world of dating, and it’s being championed for how heartfelt and real it feels.
So, what’s made the show such a hit, and how good is it at representing those who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum?
Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson: “One of the really special qualities about individuals on the spectrum is that they often have very little filter. They’re very authentic and pure of heart, and they say what they think and say what they mean. And I think you really see that on the show.”
That’s Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, she’s a clinical psychologist whose dating bootcamp was featured on the show.
Love On The Spectrum has largely been praised for the cast themselves.
But Dr. Laugeson told me that timing probably has something to do with its popularity too.
The series actually first aired on TV back in November 2019, but it was re-released on Netflix this year – bringing it to a whole new audience in lockdown. Dr. Laugeson thinks that COVID-19 has left us all craving social connection, and that Love On The Spectrum might have actually brought us some meaning at an otherwise pretty bleak time.
But some people on the spectrum haven’t totally fallen in love with the show.
There‘s been some criticism over the cast being taught to date and mimic what society sees as ‘normal behaviour’. Critics say this could potentially be more harmful than helpful.
Dr. Laugeson told me that this teaching of neurotypical behaviour is one of the biggest criticisms she faces about her program.
EL: “The reality is that we are all follow certain social rules and customs. For example, you and I are having this conversation over zoom and we are engaged and looking at our cameras and politely nodding. These are social customs that we were taught.
I don’t think we’re hardwired to know to do these things. I think we are hardwired to observe these behaviours and learn to use them.
Most of the young adults and teens that I’m familiar with on the spectrum, really want to know those hidden rules … they want us to write down those rules and steps that other people maybe naturally take for granted.”
For the most part, the autism community seem to really love the show – especially considering it’s the only dating show in Australia that’s actually trying to give their experiences some visibility.
This is something that creators of the show felt passionately about, after discovering there’s hardly any support for Australians living with autism who are wanting to date and have relationships.
EL: “The field had largely ignored teens and adults on the autism spectrum and I just thought that was unacceptable and I really wanted to fill that gap.”
Shows that delve into topics such as disability, tread a fine line between advocacy that brings real experiences to a wider audience, and unhelpfully portraying a person’s disability as inspiring.
Some shows have previously come under fire for having actors play characters with autism, without actually having autism themselves.
But the creators of Love On The Spectrum made sure they involved organisations like Autism Spectrum Australia, who were overjoyed to finally be a part of a production that actually championed real autism.
Ultimately, what the Love On The Spectrum creators wanted to do with the show was raise awareness and spark conversation.
EL: “And I think the portrayals were very heartwarming. I feel like the entire cast was incredibly charming and I was really happy that viewers got to see the side of autism that I get to see every day.”