ABC’s hit show, Love on the Spectrum, follows people with autism in the search for love.
Love. It’s all around us. It’s the inspiration for movies, songs, poems and, in more recent times, reality dating shows. Whether people are handing out roses, marrying strangers or dating farmers, there’s something about watching people fall in love we just can’t resist. But with all the editing, romantic music and movie-worthy picnic dates, it always looks so easy.
So what do you do when falling in love isn’t as simple as it looks on The Bachelor?
It’s the question many people with disabilities face in their search for love. Enter Love on the Spectrum; the ABC’s take on reality dating. The four-part series follows 11 people with autism – seven singles and two couples – as they navigate the dating world and learn valuable skills from relationship experts and family members on their journey to find ‘the one’.
One of the participants, 30-year-old Mark Radburn won the hearts of viewers for his sincerity and honesty, which is so often missing in today’s reality dating programs. Growing up on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Mark says he hasn’t always been so confident.
“I was always bullied [at school] and people made fun of me growing up,” he says.
“I was pretty down in the dumps for a while but I feel like now I’ve absolutely overcome that and proved people wrong through going on Love on the Spectrum.”
Mark applied for the show after hearing about it from a friend, knowing it was an opportunity he just couldn’t afford to pass up.
“I wasn’t nervous; the opposite in fact. I was so enthusiastic and wanted an experience to help me with my social skills and, of course, to send a message to other people on the spectrum, to give them hope that they too can find and have a relationship,” Mark said.
“My message to everyone who watches the show, or to the people reading this, is to not give up hope. Don’t give up on love. There is always someone out there for everyone, even if you’re on the spectrum.”
Throughout the show, we follow Mark as he heads out on a few dates and starts online dating, with some success but he hasn’t found his dream girl… yet.
“I find that because I have autism it’s a little bit harder for me to find love… and it’s hard to find the one person that’s perfectly suited to you,” Mark said.
Series creator Cian O’Clery agrees, saying it can be difficult for people with disabilities to meet new people.
“One of the key features of autism is difficulty with social communication, which can make dating quite a difficult thing. At the same time, it was important for us not to generalise…because some people with autism don’t struggle to find love, but we found there were lots who were [struggling] and we thought we needed to share those stories,” Cian said.
“When we’re talking to guys who are 29 years old and all they want is to find a partner, but they’ve never been on a date in their lives, there’s something wrong,” Cian says.
Although never aiming to battle against the primetime dating programs, Love on the Spectrum was the most-watched program during its timeslot, because it was relatable and authentic.
“That is what was so great about the series. We represented autism… and introduced Australia to 11 different people who are very real and very much themselves,” he said.
Cian hopes the show will start important conversations about the lack of specialised dating agencies, apps and advice for people with disabilities.
“There’s lots of support for kids growing up, going to schools, and employment support, but there’s not a lot of support for finding a partner. I am hoping there will be a bit more discussion around the idea of how we can help people more,” Cian said.
For Mark, his goal for 2020 is to fall in love.
“Everyone deserves love. Everyone deserves that special somebody in their life. Everyone deserves to have their own partner. It doesn’t matter who they are, or where they come from; the colour of their skin or the country they come from; or whether they have a disability. Everyone on this planet deserves love,” Mark said.
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