The Curious Incident of the Girl with the Cheeseburger

Cheeseburger By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Cheeseburger By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I admit, I get outraged easily.  It doesn’t take much to get me all riled up.  So it’s no surprise that I’m all up in arms again, but this time it’s about something both important and timely.

A picture is flooding the web.  A little Autistic girl with her Chili’s cheeseburger.  And everyone thinks it’s “cute.”

No.  No, it’s not!

But let me explain.

First, I don’t mean the kid isn’t cute.  She is.  Total cutey-pie.

Second, I don’t mean to say anything bad about Chili’s or how they handled the situation.  We’ve had plenty of our own experiences, like having to order non-grilled grilled cheese sandwiches for years because Simon would only eat plain cheese sandwiches (literally two slices of bread with some cheese in between them…and then he’d take that apart to eat the bread and cheese separately).  But I digress.  Chili’s handled the situation wonderfully, and the wait staff deserves serious kudos.

So why do I have a problem with it then?

Because while everyone seems to be looking at the picture and saying it’s cute, it’s not.  It is an example of a child who was suffering and had difficulty expressing herself due to a disability.  Disabilities aren’t “cute.”  Being unable to tell someone you’re not happy or hurt or in pain – not cute.  Her need to have the burger whole and “unbroken” wasn’t just a kid wanting crusts cut off because she didn’t like them.  It’s a part of the rigidness and enforced “sameness” that goes along with Autism.

I blame it all on “Rain Man” (the movie).  The movie portrays a quirky but intelligent character.  One who may need help but is overall satisfied with his life in an institution (which is wonderfully unrealistic as I look back upon it now, FYI).

Then we get to see all the “wonders” of people with Autism.  People who go up in a helicopter and then can draw New York.  There are stories about brilliant people who were probably on the spectrum

And all those things are great.  Maybe.

But that’s not the life of your average Autistic child. 

They may lash out because they aren’t able to communicate.

They may throw tantrums or have meltdowns because things don’t follow expected patterns that they have become accustomed to, so they become overstimulated.

They may suffer from other issues and related disabilities and may have no way to communicate those issues or disabilities.

So while everyone is busy focusing on the cute girl with the broken hamburger, think about how you’d react to a 30 or 40 years old woman who did the same thing.  Or a ten year old boy who stims and flaps his hands and arms and keeps loudly repeating Blue’s Clues when you take him to a restaurant.  Will you still think it’s cute and want to help? 

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