A recently published study could end up encouraging more expecting families to conduct prenatal testing for autism and might, unfortunately, lead to an uptick in abortions. There is already a devastating number of children aborted after they are diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb; autism testing could lead to a similar trend. While one of the paper’s authors noted that “earlier detection means better treatment,” we know it also means more destruction of so-called “imperfect” human life.
But imperfection is life, and one of the best places to see those living their best life with autism is the American version of the popular TV show “Love on the Spectrum.” The reality show documents the first-time dating experiences of individuals living with autism, featuring people on both very low and high ends of the spectrum. It invites viewers into a world they may know little about, revealing tender idiosyncrasies about the full lives of each character.
Episodes bounce back and forth between individual stories, where viewers meet at least one significant friend or family member in the main character’s home life. These are often parents, as the individuals featured aren’t usually living on their own. Most haven’t dated before but are eager to find love and share their lives with someone. We are, after all, created by God with a natural desire for lifelong partnership, and that’s no different for those with autism.
Living with autism means finding “the one” may not be as easy as online dating or finding a mate through friends or work, though.
The benefit of the show is its ability to find and match people with others on the spectrum. This is achieved through online dating apps, speed dating, or other means arranged by the show’s producers. Viewers viscerally feel the nervous anticipation of first date jitters, the palpable awkwardness of new conversations, and the familiar anguish of telling — or being told — that someone isn’t interested in a second or third date.
Sweet moments of connection — like when two characters bond over their autism — accompany difficult interactions when personalities clash. Authentic vulnerability, something those with autism display clearly, is the magic that carries the show. Characters become beloved friends through the screen, and viewers develop attachments while hoping their favorite couples last.
Google shows people regularly searching to discover if certain couples are still together or for the fate of characters who weren’t so lucky in love. Some of the most heartwarming pieces of the show are the hopes and joys of parents who have walked with their autistic children through the heartbreaking moments of a world that is cruel and unfair to those who are different.
After her daughter’s first successful first date, the mother of Abbey from season three elatedly proclaimed, “I’m already planning the wedding!” Her mother was kidding, but a year later, the couple is still together, and such a sentiment may become reality.
Showcasing their experiences brings dignity to those often cast aside by society, who have suffered bullying as children, or simply have a tough time relating to a neuro-typical world. While many aren’t intimately familiar with autism in their personal lives, watching “Love on the Spectrum” has sparked conversations online about it.
In America magazine, Matthew P. Schneider wrote about a study in Taiwan, which asked parents of autistic children about the prenatal diagnosis of autism in the future, and a staggering 53 percent said they would choose abortion. Given what we know about many prenatal tests — that they are often wrong — this result becomes even scarier.
“Love on the Spectrum” gives those with autism a voice and a deeper identity, one layered with passions, personal struggles, and dreams. It’s hard to say if autism is growing or if physicians can more accurately diagnose it, but more families are dealing with it today than ever before.
Regardless, promoting awareness, compassion, and resources is a net positive. In the case of neurodivergence or other atypical conditions such as Down syndrome, inclusivity and compassion are both of vital importance. When you get to know people, you can’t help but recognize their human dignity. Too often, the obviously different aren’t represented in mainstream society.
While “Love on the Spectrum” has received some criticism for infantilizing characters on the show and for allegedly “being scripted,” most of the feedback is positive.
After watching all three seasons available in full, I walked away knowing a bit more about autism and the loveable people who live with it. Looking back over my life, I began to recognize people I’ve encountered that were likely on the spectrum, and our interactions make more sense now. Shows like this will help others identify these extraordinary individuals in their own lives and appreciate them for who God made them to be.