Netflix hit Love on the Spectrum follows a group of people who exist on the autism spectrum as they attempt to find love and begin their dating journeys in Australia. The show has become an international phenomenon and has led to increased visibility of neurodivergent people across the spectrum. Love On The Spectrum has successfully shared stories that work to destigmatize neurodiversity on TV.
Neurodiversity has become far more visible in the content audiences consume. Stories, fictional and nonfictional, of people on the spectrum have long been ignored in traditional media even though they create rich and diverse characters. Thankfully, the number of shows focused on neurodivergent stories and people are on the rise and here to stay.
‘Love On The Spectrum’ (US)
Like its Australian counterpart, Love On The Spectrum (US) takes viewers along on the real stories of neurodivergent people while they try to find love. As the name suggests, this franchise installment is set exclusively in the US, primarily on the West Coast. Fans get an intimate experience with the show’s participants through testimonials and watching them date, some for the first time.
The show’s success is undoubtedly due to the charismatic and lovable cast members of season one. The cast is incredibly vulnerable with the audience as they share some of the most private parts of their lives. Love On The Spectrum US has earned its place as unmissable reality TV and put hope back into the genre.
Ricky Gervais starred as the titular character, Derek, who was thoroughly endearing and terminally delightful. Derek follows a mockumentary format focused on Derek and his coworkers, whom he considers his closest friends as they work in a nursing home. Derek is a dramedy that is funny as it is heartbreaking from the show’s onset.
Derek is the show’s beating heart amidst all the bleakness of working in an underfunded nursing home. Gervais puts a character on the spectrum in the spotlight who is completely satisfied and feels full in his daily life. Derek’s autism is rarely acknowledged because it is an inseparable part of the character’s identity and framed as a part of who he is instead of a disability.
Before Love On The Spectrum, The Undateables was a reality show that followed people’s dating lives on the spectrum and physical disabilities in the UK. The long-running series introduces fans to a host of cast members looking for romance through a specialized dating service. They share their deepest fears and desires to raise awareness of the daily struggles of living in a world tailored to the neurotypical and able-bodied.
The Undateables brings a more diverse cast by not only focusing on those on the spectrum. The show allows audiences a look into a worldview they may have no experience with themselves through the lovable cast’s stories. The authenticity of the show’s participants gave a voice to people who were otherwise invisible on TV at the time.
Atypical follows the coming of age of Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an autistic teenager, as he takes on relationships, family drama, and moving out of his parent’s home. The show allows viewers to watch Sam become increasingly independent and share in his challenges. Sam’s autism is a primary subject of the show and demonstrates how it defines much of their family’s life.
It is worth mentioning that Sam is a very privileged character that lends itself to a narrow account of a neurodiverse character. He has access to a therapist and many other resources for kids on the spectrum and a robust support system for his friends and family. However, Sam is a positive figure who challenges any limitations that have been put on him and successfully overcomes them.
‘The Good Doctor’
The Good Doctor follows Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), an autistic surgeon with savant syndrome, working in a prestigious hospital. Though highly intelligent, Shaun struggles with the social dynamics associated with his job. He works to grow and develop many meaningful relationships with his colleagues at the hospitals that he would have struggled with in the past.
Shaun is an extraordinary example of a genius who is on the spectrum. Even though Shaun’s story strays from the reality of most neurodivergent people, it is easy to find commonalities in his actions and thoughts. Shaun is also a positive example of someone on the spectrum who creates close bonds with those around him and is highly successful in his career.
Parenthood introduces Max Braverman (Max Burkholder) as being on the spectrum later in the show. The storyline chronicled what it was like for a family to begin learning and understanding autism as they rallied around their child. Max had to cope with the vast shift his diagnosis created in his life and how it affected his whole family in the show.
Max’s story lent itself as a heartfelt example of a young person coming into and understanding their neurodivergence. As a character, Max demonstrated a lot of growth, from having contempt for his diagnosis to learning how his brain worked for his benefit. Parenthood offered a loving story of a family trying to be a support system for Max while he struggled.
‘As We See It’
As We See It gives audiences a look into the lives of young adults on the spectrum as they live together on their own for the first time. The show provides insights into the unique challenges of neurodivergent adults as they navigate the world. With the help of their therapeutic aide, they face these challenges with one another and gain their independence.
As We See Itsubverts the usual crutches of neurodivergent stories that see people on the spectrum as needing constant help from others. The show shows the complexities of the relationship with the roommate’s aide and demonstrates how her job is to facilitate independence. The audience is taken into each of their personal experiences and why the roommates interact the way they do.
‘The IT Crowd’
The classic British comedy, The IT Crowd, depicts the everyday tomfoolery of the outcast working in the IT department of a corporation. One of those employees is Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade), who is undoubtedly brilliant and lands somewhere on the spectrum. Moss often struggles socially and avoids building connections with people he is not already comfortable with.
Part of the show’s comedy is often hinged on Moss’ uncertainty in social situations, but he is never the butt of the joke. The show takes a lightheartedly look at the endearing mix-ups his confusion lands him and his coworkers in time and time again. Moss is never looked at as an “other” amongst the other IT folks; he is fully treated as a friend and an accepted member of the team.
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