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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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The Fear

“The Fear” by Pulp
This is the sound of someone losing the plot –
making out that they’re okay when they’re not.

You’re gonna like it, but not a lot
and the chorus goes like this:
Oh baby, here comes the fear again.
The end is near again.
A monkey’s built a house on your back…
and here comes another panic attack
Oh here we go again.

 

My son is ten.  But if you ask him how old he is, you may have a fifty-fifty chance that he will tell you that.  Instead, he may say he is six.  Or he may say he is good.  Or he’ll just stare at you and repeat something from an episode of Blue’s Clues or Dora the Explorer. He sort of knows his address.  And he does know his name.  But he’s autistic, and we have no idea if he will ever be able to answer those questions correctly all the time or get along by himself.  Yes, it’s a fear.  But it’s something that we have to deal with.  And it’s something we will continue to deal with.

But there’s another fear.  And it’s one that was made very clear in a story on CNN yesterday.  In Tennessee, the mother of a nineteen-year-old woman with a severe mental disability decided that she couldn’t deal with her daughter anymore, and she dropped her off at a rural bar to use the bathroom.  Then drove off and left her there.  The girl couldn’t share her name, her address, or any information.  Doctors who examined her discovered that she had a vocabulary of only 30 to 40 words.  When the police finally tracked down the mother, she told them that she “could not and would not” care for her daughter. So the nineteen-year-old has been put into a home because she is unable to even care for her basic personal needs.  She is supposedly “doing fantastic.”

Now let’s get back to the fear.

What’s life going to be like in nine years for us?  Where will Simon be?  As a nineteen-year-old, what will he be capable of?  What will he be able to do?  Will we be at the end of our ropes, wanting to leave him at a bar to be put into a home?

No, I don’t think that’s what will happen.  I can’t imagine any scenario that would have me doing that.  But it’s happened.  It’s out there, circulating in the air that we breathe and the world we live in.  Someone felt so alone, so overwhelmed, that she decided that her best possible option was abandoning her daughter.  She couldn’t have known that the outcome would be good.  What if no one helped her?  What if she had just wandered off,  got hit by a car?  Died of exposure or some other issue?  Are we back in ancient Greece where we pierce a baby’s heels and leave them on a hillside?  Because, while this girl may be 19, she was, for all intents and purposes, a baby.

There’s no way for me to know what drove that mother to toss her “baby” by the roadside, and all I can do is try to make sure that the same thing never happens to me or anyone I know.  And maybe if everyone else goes around with the same mindset, it won’t happen again ever.