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ABC Australia Launches Autism Dating Reality TV Series 'Love on the Spectrum'

A new reality TV series launched on Australia’s ABC, titled “Love on the Spectrum,” tackles dating while neurodiverse and aims to combat the misconception autistic people can’t have meaningful relationships.

“Love on the Spectrum,” now available for streaming online in some countries, follows several 20-something people on the spectrum as they navigate dating, love and relationships. Some of the cast members are new to dating while others are navigating long-term relationships. During the four-part docuseries, relationship coach Jodi Rodgers and psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson are on-hand to provide advice.

It’s unclear if cast members will be exploring dates with both neurodiverse and neurotypical people. Though it’s important to note that people on the spectrum can and do have intimate relationships with neurotypical people.

The first episode introduces 22-year-old Ruth and 25-year-old Thomas, both of whom are on the spectrum. The couple has been together for four years and is engaged. During the series, Ruth and Thomas explain how their relationship — and “Love of the Spectrum” — highlights that intimate relationships are possible for anyone, even if they look different than what you see on other reality TV series.

“I think it’s really bizarre people think people with autism can’t love,” Thomas told The New Daily. “Love doesn’t have to look like it does on ‘The Bachelor.’ A date can be very silly, and a relationship can be done differently.”

“Neurotypical and able-bodied ideals are often portrayed as perfection, and of course they’re not,” added Ruth.

Other people on the spectrum face similar misconceptions about dating and relationships. Harmful stereotypes such as autistic people can’t feel or express love or don’t want physical intimacy lack an understanding of what it means to be neurodiverse, which Mighty contributor Jeanette Purkis explained in their article, “When I Worried My Autism Meant I Was Incapable of Feeling Love“:

I imagined I would live my entire life not ever feeling love. I thought about what a horrible person I must be. I really wanted to be able to experience love, but when I tried to understand what love felt like, I couldn’t get it. As far as I saw it, my autism stripped love from me and meant I was incapable of the feeling. … I think the stereotypes around autistic people lacking love come from a place where the experience of love for an autistic person is not understood and is thus dismissed. Like all stereotypes, it has come from place of misunderstanding and unwillingness to listen to the autistic view.

“Love on the Spectrum” was created by filmmaker Cian O’Clery, who also created “Employable Me,” another Australian ABC series that focuses on neurodiverse job seekers. O’Clery told Mamamia he expressly created “Love on the Spectrum” because he kept encountering the myth that people on the spectrum aren’t interested in love. He said:

In making television series about disability over the years, I have spoken to many young adults on the autism spectrum as well as families, job coaches, psychologists, and autism organisation. 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.

O’Clery also pointed out a lack of resources designed to support young adults on the spectrum in areas outside of employment, such as information and resources for those who want to date and have romantic and sexual relationships.

“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,” O’Clery told Mamamia. “The vast majority of autism resources are devoted to early intervention and childhood programs, and the services for young adults are mostly focused on developing work skills and trying to find employment.”

You can watch the trailer for “Love on the Spectrum” below and watch new episodes on ABC Australia.

Header image via ABC and iview