For singles on autism spectrum, Netflix dating series offers needed visibility, says actor
Love On The Spectrum follows young Australians on the autism spectrum as they navigate the world of dating
In the new Netflix reality dating series, Love On The Spectrum, viewers watch Olivia Sharpe go on her first "very, very awkward and uncomfortable" date.
"I had advice from my director before going into this ... 'Oh, just be yourself,'" she recalled.
"But there's this weird thing with actors: you can't actually be yourself on screen. You physically can't because another version of yourself comes out."
Sharpe, an actor herself, is featured on the show which follows a group of young Australians, each on the autism spectrum, as they navigate the world of dating.
It's a twist on the often raunchy and scandalous reality genre, and aims to bust the misconception that people with autism are uninterested in, or unable to form, romantic relationships.
"We thought it was a great opportunity to address those issues, as well as kind of help educate audiences a bit more about autism," series director Cian O'Clery told Salon.
For Sharpe, the show offered much-needed visibility for a community that so often is ignored.
"I didn't really see many people with autism with partners," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
"The stereotype is like, us weirdos living in our parents' basements until we're like 80, alone and single. So, I just assumed that would be my life."
The series has been praised by critics for its sensitive and thoughtful portrayal of its subjects.
"This five-part newcomer feels more of its moment, taking the time to explore the lives of its participants in greater depth, which results in a programme filled with joy, warmth and insight," Rebecca Nicholson wrote in the U.K.'s the Guardian.
'We don't think of ourselves as disabled'
For some on the autism spectrum, dating can be a challenge because of the social cues involved.
In Sharpe's case, it comes down to not having a "filter" on what she has to say.
"There is something that happens between your head and your mouth that just doesn't connect," she explained.
"Neurotypical people [those not on the autism spectrum] have something that tells them to stop, to not say everything they're thinking. We don't have that."
That could mean Sharpe unintentionally makes an inappropriate or rude comment, despite being well meaning, she says.
The show also tackles difficult conversations about autism.
During one date, Sharpe is told by her dinner mate that he "doesn't see" her disability. She responds with a question: "What does autism look like to you?"
"Point taken," he responds.
Speaking to Day 6, Sharpe says that she appreciated the question.
"I've never thought of myself as there was anything wrong with me," she told Bambury. "A lot of people with autism, we don't think of ourselves as disabled. It's called neurodiversity."
"We don't believe we should be cured. We believe that autism is part of ourselves, our identity. And if you take away the autism, you take away the person."
Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Laurie Allen.