I’m going to start this rant/review by saying that it’s been a while since I watched Love on the Spectrum. I thought this might be a good time for me to comment as I’m in a newish relationship. My opinion is not the only opinion of the Autism community on the show, these are simply my thoughts and opinions. If you have a different perspective on the show, please comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I want to say that I could easily relate to the individuals on the show and the struggles they talked about in their one-on-one interviews when it came to dating. I also enjoyed how they showed social skills coaching on the show. I received coaching on social skills from vocational rehab and I hadn’t thought about it relating to a romantic setting. It’s a good idea and I wish I’d had coaching on how to handle dating before I started. The criticism of the show is not related to the individuals who participated whatsoever. By allowing themselves to be filmed, they increased on-screen representation for those with disabilities and were brave. My criticism will be centered around how the content was handled.
My first gripe is that the music felt annoyingly cheerful and I felt like I trivialized the topic. I don’t want Swan Lake playing in the background, but the cutesy tracks felt ableist. There has to be a compromise between music appropriate for a preschool and music that causes people to sob. I also don’t feel like they talked enough about the people on the show as individuals, especially in the first season. Someone’s disability is only one part of what makes them a whole person. What else contributes to who they are and how they move through the world? When I first got diagnosed, having autism was my whole identity. Eventually, I started to realize that parts of who I am aren’t related to autism and it’s not the totality of what makes me me. I wish they had spent more time focusing on the individuals and not their journey for love as the main focus. It would’ve been wonderful to hear the participants talk about how they’ve come to appreciate themselves and what they find positive about their disability.
The biggest gripe I have with the show is it shows people with autism dating other people with autism. Why did they not show more people with autism dating neurotypicals? My current relationship is my first relationship with someone who has a confirmed diagnosis and embraces their weirdness. Most of my dating experiences were with neurotypical men. It was hard to not see my own experience reflected in a show that aws focusing on those with my disability. It also presented the harmful idea that people with autism can only date each other, which is not true. Just because I have the same diagnosis as someone else does not mean we would be compatible romantically. In my current relationship, my boyfriend has autism and I do too but that’s not the main reason we’re together. We have similar values, senses of humor, goals, hobbies, and communication styles. I did have a coworker tell me when I said I was in a relationship with someone on the spectrum “Awww, you two really get each other”. I mean sure, I happen to understand my boyfriend. There are also lots of men with autism who I wouldn’t understand as well.
I wish the show had shown how couples with one or both partners being neurodivergent resolve conflict. I’ve had to adjust my communication style over time. I have a habit of being blunt, often in the times of harshness. It has taken a lot of work to temper my comments and understand that you can be honest and kind. My greater frustration is the lack of difficulties they showed the couples facing and how they were addressed. I’m not sure why they focused on the cute first dates and the lighter material. Dating hasn’t always been an easy or pleasant experience for me and seeing how a couple would navigate this would’ve been helpful.
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