The interests, ages, and dating histories of Netflix's Love on the Spectrum cast vary, but the people featured in the new reality dating series all have two unifying traits: they're all autistic, and they all want to be loved. Michael is determined to find his life partner; Chloe realizes she's more interested in women after a few lackluster dates with men; and both Ruth and Thomas and Sharnae and Jimmy are preparing to take the next big step in their relationships. It may seem like a simple concept, but in showing their experiences, the show helps to dismantle one of the biggest misconceptions about autism.
"A lot of people believe that people on the spectrum have no interest in finding love, but we are no exception," Michael tells Bustle. "We’re still people who wish to be loved by others and seek meaningful connections."
Though the term autism has been around since 1908, it's still an often misunderstood diagnosis. "A lot of people believe that autism is a disability," Michael says. "[But] it’s a type of neurological disorder that affects people’s socializing and learning."
Per the National Institute of Mental Health, autism is described as a spectrum because there's a wide variety of types and symptoms that autistic people experience. Though a 2016 CDC study estimated that one in 68 school-aged children fall along the spectrum, a 2017 study found that most neurotypical people still feel like they have a "weak" understanding of the disorder. And even though shows like The Good Doctor and Atypical center autistic protagonists, they feature neurotypical actors and often fail to capture the nuances of what it means to be autistic, let alone what it means to date and fall in love. Love on the Spectrum does.
There are, of course, some unique challenges that autistic people face while dating. Meeting in a crowded bar and making small talk can be particularly daunting, for example, and "an [autistic] person’s body language may not match what they are saying," says sex and relationship counselor Jodi Rodgers, who's featured in the show. But as in any relationship, the key to success is simply talking things out.
"We look out for each other and get why we don’t cope in certain situations," Jimmy and Sharnae explain. "And when it’s hard, we talk about how we could handle things better next time."
Love on the Spectrum pushes back against the myth that neurotypical and autistic people approach intimacy and romance in vastly different ways. First dates can be awkward for just about anyone on the planet, and healthy relationships still require solid communication and work. "I think people maybe think [dating on the spectrum is] different," Thomas explains. "It’s not. We love each other, we have fun together, we fight, we go on dates."
When asked about what she hopes people take away from the show, Ruth says that she doesn't want people to view Thomas as her "carer" just because he has a milder form of autism than she does. "He’s my husband. It’s not lucky that he loves me, because that’s a bit of a patronizing statement. Instead, it’s awesome we’re spending our lives together."
In a genre that makes being neurotypical the default, Love on the Spectrum provides a refreshing look at how universal romance is, even if the particulars are a little different. "I may be biased, but I think people on the spectrum make great partners," Thomas says. "We might be a little different, but get past that and you’ll see just how passionate we can be, how loyal we are."