Finding love is rarely an easy pursuit, but it’s one that millions upon millions embark upon once or more in a lifetime. For people with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), it can be even more difficult. Romance is all about identifying and expressing emotions, something that can be challenging to autistic individuals.
That said, it’s a common misconception that people with autism can’t lead normal, healthy adult lives, holding stable jobs, marrying, and starting families. Many can, and plenty do. It is, however, a unique challenge. The PBS film “Autism in Love” explores how the disorder can complicate romantic relationships, and how couples work to overcome this struggle.
Director Matt Fuller’s documentary debut, which initially premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, weaves together three narratives of autistic people navigating life and love. The film humanizes the experiences of people with autism by tapping into the raw, painful, and powerful emotions most of us have felt when forming and maintaining romantic relationships.
The first storyline details the life of a young single man on the autism spectrum. Lenny Felix is unemployed and lives with his mother, but yearns for a romantic partner. Lenny’s autistic traits and old-fashioned expectations make it especially difficult to find a girlfriend — especially considering he refuses to date a woman more financially stable than himself.
The second storyline follows a middle-aged couple, both suffering from intellectual disabilities. The husband, Stephen Goodman, has Aspergers and exhibits savant intelligence, while his wife Geeta is suffering from cancer. This story shows the difficulty of not only being in a longterm relationship as a person with autism, but reckoning with feelings of grief when a loved one is sick.
The last narrative provides a lighter love story between two high-functioning people with autism, Lindsey Nebeker and Dave Hamrick. The couple have been together for a decade and have learned to coexist and care for one another in spite of their individual quirks. Over the course of the documentary we see Dave working up the courage to propose to Lindsey, and backing out each time he tries until he finally goes for it.
The documentary transcends its topic by relating to the common anxieties we all share about life and love. The struggle to settle down and find “the one” in a world that is not as neat as a storybook is real for all of us. As Lindsey says in the film, “our experiences, our desire to feel love are just as genuine, if not more intense, than anyone else’s.”
You can stream the film now on Netflix.