“Love on the Spectrum” is a Netflix reality series that chronicles the dating lives of a few adults – from 20s to 50s - with autism and who are searching for true love. I like the series and I recommend it. But there are some notable buts.
It’s not unusual for grandparents to be safe and understanding confidants (even more so than parents) for their grandchildren regarding all sorts of issues, including romance. Thus we have a special opportunity to provide words and wisdom based on age and experience. Some of us will have that opportunity for our grandchildren who are on the spectrum – so it is important for us to be prepared.
“Love on the Spectrum,” in spite of its flaws, is a good vehicle for enhancing our own education. My favorite review of the show was written by Sara Luterman who is on the spectrum. Here’s the final paragraph of her review:
“Love on the Spectrum” probably won’t educate anyone about autism, or even about the realities of autistic dating. It isn’t science. But if you want to watch a dating show in which everyone is treated with kindness, you might want to add it to your Netflix queue.
All of her review is similarly well-conceived and written. Early in the review she says, “Unlike most reality television, the production crew isn’t trying to stir up drama. No one gets voted off the island. No one is told to pack their anime figurines and go. Although I was not completely pleased with ‘Love on the Spectrum,’ it is kind, and I respect the creators’ good intentions.”
But throughout the review she confirms that the problem (as with virtually all shows and books about specific persons with autism) is that the show will cause viewers to believe that these specific persons accurately represent autism, when, in fact, autism is different in everyone.
And she points out some of the show’s embarrassing and incorrect implications: “In one particularly galling moment, the production staff ask Sharnae and Jimmy, an autistic couple who are moving in together, if they have ‘consummated their relationship’ — to which they sort of laugh and confirm that they have. They are a couple in their 20s. They are moving in together. They sleep in the same bed. For any readers in doubt, I can assure you: Autistic people have sex, just like anybody else. Jimmy and Sharnae have had sex. It was a bizarre question and supremely uncomfortable to watch.”
What, including watching “Love on the Spectrum,” can we autism grandparents do in order to be valuable confidants to our grandchildren? Three basic things:
Understand that most persons on the spectrum yearn to have a loving, life partner – and that many of them view this as a major challenge.
Educate ourselves regarding romance, sex, and autism. Here are four (of many) websites that have good information: autismspeaks.org, spectrumnews.org, researchautism.org, and raisingchildren.net.au
Without revealing confidences, keep our grandchildren’s parents informed about our involvement as confidants.
Romance, usually confused and intertwined with sex, is of course, like hunger and thirst, an extremely compelling biological force within almost everyone who has reached adolescence, including our grandchildren on the spectrum. It doesn’t go away, it’s usually not readily discussed, and it can be emotionally consuming. We autism grandparents can provide comfort, understanding, and wisdom – often in a way that parents can’t.