Back in 2017, Australian filmmaker Cian O’Clery released his docuseries Employable Me following several individuals with disabilities as they tried to navigate employment discrimination and biases. While working on that project, O’Clery noticed a trend, particularly with subjects he interviewed who were on the autism spectrum.
“A lot of people were really wanting to find love and to date but were struggling,” he says. “To the point where we’re talking to guys who are 35 years old and had never been on a date. That just didn’t feel right.”
That planted the seed for what would become Love on the Spectrum, a five-part unscripted series that documents young adults on the autism spectrum going through the trials and triumphs of dating.
“I wanted to help bust some of the myths about autism—one of the biggest being that people on the spectrum aren’t interested in love and uninterested in relationships and intimacy,” O’Clery says.
The series was shot in Australia, where O’Clery says there isn’t much support in the way of matchmaking for people on the spectrum. So O’Clery and his team played matchmaker by facilitating one-on-one dates for their subjects, as well as group dates for other people in the area.
Oftentimes, O’Clery would capture someone’s very first date, which can be a nerve-racking experience for anyone—let alone someone who may have difficulty with social interactions.
Add on top of all that, a film crew capturing every moment? One would think the process of filming Love on the Spectrum would inhibit the whole point of a show like it, but O’Clery says the opposite turned out to be true.
“We were kind of like a support for them in that they weren’t stepping out into that world on their own,” O’Clery says. “Psychologists who work with people on the spectrum also spoke to me about this and said that us being there could actually be an advantage in that we are helping them to take the first step into this world that is so daunting.”
With Love on the Spectrum, O’Clery was hoping not only to make love connections but to open a broader conversation around normalizing neurodiversity and deconstructing monolithic thinking around autism.
“The biggest thing for me was realizing the diversity of the spectrum and how unique and different every single person is,” O’Clery says. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to anyone on the spectrum. You can’t make any assumptions about people.”
Love on the Spectrum premieres on Netflix July 22.