The waitress, the autistic girl and the broken hamburger
March 26th, 2013
08:00 PM ET
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Last Sunday was just an average morning for Anna Kaye MacLean. Her sister, 7-year-old Arianna, had slept over at her house the night before and seemed to have woken up in a good mood - which is not always a given for a child with autism.

After determining that Arianna’s mood was stable enough for a day of fun activities outside the home, MacLean and her husband decided to take Arianna out to lunch, with a bonus visit to the Easter Bunny afterward. They decided to eat lunch at the Chili’s Bar and Grill in Midvale, Utah, where a beautiful thing happened - and went viral.

MacLean requested a booth facing the window, knowing it would allow her sister the freedom to move around, while also keeping her entertained by watching what was going on outside. The hostess happily obliged and said their server would be over to greet them soon. The MacLean party was going to be one of Lauren Wells' last tables of the day, and with a bright smile, she approached the party to introduce herself and take drink orders.

Before she could even say, “Hi, welcome to Chili’s, I’m Lauren and I’ll be your waitress,” Arianna had excitedly rattled off her entire order: chocolate milk, a cheeseburger with pickles and a side of fries.

Wells delivered the food shortly, but as MacLean watched Arianna devour her French fries, she noticed that her sister wasn’t touching her cheeseburger.

“It was really, really bizarre,” MacLean told CNN in a phone interview. “Arianna loves anything in a hamburger bun. She’s obsessed with hamburgers or ‘Krabby Patties,’” an ode to one of Arianna’s favorite cartoon shows, Spongebob Squarepants.

MacLean asked her sister if she was going to eat her cheeseburger. “No, I don’t want it,” Arianna responded. “It’s broked. I need a new one that’s fixed.”

It’s a standard Chili’s policy to cut a child’s burger in half to ensure the meat is fully cooked to 170° degrees, and that's what was "broken."

When Wells returned to the table, she noticed Arianna was crying, and asked what was the matter.

"I know this is going to sound silly, but I need to order another cheeseburger," MacLean told the server. Wells had a concerned look on her face and MacLean was quick to assure her that there was nothing wrong with the food. "No, no, no, this one is fine," she explained, "But it’s cut in half and she thinks it's broke.'”

MacLean quietly told Wells about Arianna’s autism and adamantly said she wanted to pay for the additional burger. But instead of speaking to MacLean, Wells leaned over to the little girl and addressed her directly, saying, “Ohmygosh! I brought you a broken cheeseburger! I’ll go get you a new one.”

Arianna stopped crying shortly after. MacLean, particularly moved by this, said Wells' exchange with her sister was something she had never experienced before.

“I think most people, just out of fear and the unknown, don’t know how to interact with a kid with autism, so people will usually just keep the interaction with me.” When necessary, MacLean explains her sister's condition.

Wells graduated from the University of Utah in May 2012 with a degree in psychology and hopes to do social work with children in the future. She also has an autistic family member, and said that while she thought Arianna might be autistic, she never assumes anything.

“I treated her the same way that [I would] any other kid who would be crying, but in her case, it was something different,” said Wells. She approached her manager Brad Cattermole, who told her they would happily switch out the broken burger for a new one.

Cattermole, too, stopped by the table and knelt down to speak with Arianna at eye level to apologize again. “You know, I heard we brought you a broken cheeseburger and I am so sorry. We’re back there making you a new one, but let me bring you out some french fries while you’re waiting.”

MacLean says one of the main reasons the exchange was so special was Wells' and Cattermole's decision to speak to Arianna directly.

“It was so cool because it was so intimate. [Brad] wasn’t trying to be loud or trying to make his presence know to anybody else. It was just very, very private, very intimate,” said MacLean.

“Our goal is to make guests feel special, so anything we can do to make an experience over the top of special, we give our servers the power to make the decisions to make that happen,” said Cattermole in a phone interview with CNN. “We’re trying to get each server to connect to each table individually and Lauren is amazing at connecting with our guests.”

MacLean noticed that, surprisingly, Arianna wasn’t upset about the cheeseburger. In fact, she was uncharacteristically calm about the entire situation.

“This was so bizarre because usually, that would have just led to a huge meltdown,” MacLean said, adding that a typical meltdown for Arianna could include tantrums, throwing herself on the floor and general screaming - sometimes getting so violent that she could even physically hurt herself. “I think what prevented the meltdown was that Lauren and Brad were talking to her. They weren’t talking to me, they were talking to her.”

Several minutes later, when the new, unbroken cheeseburger arrived, Arianna stared at it for a few moments before exclaiming, “Oh, I missed you!” and kissing the top of the burger bun.

MacLean quickly snapped a picture and showed it to Wells, jokingly telling her “I think we glorified the cheeseburger a little too much.” Wells, lighting up like a Christmas tree and smiling from ear to ear, asked if she could show the picture to her co-workers and manager.

“It was a cute story. I’ve never heard of a broken cheeseburger, or anything else ‘broken’ for that matter,” said Wells, explaining that she wanted to share it with her coworkers because it was such a sincere interaction.

“It was just a really, really touching experience just to see that kind of compassion and professionalism,” said MacLean. “[Lauren] could have easily just been like, ‘Okay...’ and gone to get her a new one. But she went above and beyond and I feel like everybody involved that was working that day from the hostess to the line cook, just everybody, was super, super amazing. It’s just not something that we’re used to when we have situations like that come up.”

MacLean, who works in customer service for an insurance company and recognizes good service when she sees it, decided to share her story on Chili's Facebook page. The story quickly went viral (it has been shared near 160,000 times and liked by more than 667,000 people) touching hearts around the nation.

MacLean hopes it does more than that, though; she hopes it helps people recognize that not every kid screaming in a restaurant is an uncontrollable brat.

“While we’ve never had a personal experience like this, we know people who have been asked to leave restaurants when their kid with autism starts getting out of hand. It’s so heartbreaking,” said MacLean.

While MacLean and Arianna have never been told to leave a restaurant, they have had experiences where Arianna has gotten too overwhelmed or overstimulated at the table. Other people haven't always understood her autism, and MacLean has chosen on her own accord to leave.

Arianna will sometimes growl while she is eating. MacLean believes that it may be a sensory thing that Arianna chooses to do, or that she may like the feel of growling while she eats her food. Fellow patrons haven't always understood. “We’re used to it and it’s fine, but there were some people sitting next to us and they got up and moved clear across to the other side of the restaurant because it was bothering them so bad.”

The lack of understanding can be frustrating, says MacLean. When Arianna is having a meltdown, most people think she’s just being a brat and that she's being babied. The older sister can't deliver a disclaimer about Arianna’s autism everywhere she goes, but if people are interested she will tell them. The tone of the interaction invariably changes - but words are always directed toward MacLean and never Arianna.

This made Wells' and Cattermole's interactions with Arianna all the more special. “It’s so silly," MacLean said, "but I know every person out there that has a kid with autism can relate. That broken cheeseburger can make or break our day and it made our day, and the rest of the day was great.”

MacLean admitted that she never meant for the Facebook post to go viral; rather, she wanted to recognize Wells and Cattermole for their stellar ability to connect with Arianna on a human level. “It’s not so much that we need to bring autism awareness on a customer service level," she said, "but on a normal, typical social human being interaction. Being sensitive to people whether they have autism or they don’t.”

“I think this stuff happens more often than people recognize,” Cattermole said, “but it was Anna going on to spend 15 minutes to recognize a job well done which led to this outpouring of support.”

Wells agreed, saying that while it was definitely a table she wouldn’t forget, she never expected the response MacLean’s story received. She went on to explain that her interaction with the family didn’t seem weird or out of the ordinary to her.

“It makes me so sad that this is [considered] abnormal,” said Wells. “I was just being myself. I didn’t expect any of this; it’s been overwhelming but definitely cool.”

Chili’s parent company Brinker International Restaurants echoed Cattermole's and Wells’ sentiments in an official statement emailed to CNN.

“Moments like the one from Midvale happen in our restaurants every day, at every table, at every Chili’s across the country. We are delighted by the shining examples in Lauren Wells, Brad Cattermole and the Midvale team, and their kind gestures that made Arianna, Anna and Alex [MacLean's husband] feel so incredibly special. This story made our Midvale team members heroes, and we are so proud to have so many local heroes in our restaurants nationwide who make everyday moments like Arianna’s so heartwarming.”

MacLean has since read the hundreds of comment from strangers on her Facebook post, many of whom admitted they have never thought of something like that when encountering a screaming child at a restaurant. Her hope is that the next time they see a kid being a little different they might just think, "Maybe they have autism; maybe there’s something a little more than meets the eye.”

And for the record, Chili's didn’t charge for the new, “unbroken” cheeseburger.

Has your family been touched by autism? Have you run into either positive or sticky situations in restaurants? Please share your story in the comments below.

Previously:
When crying kids disrupt dinner, who ends up paying the price?
Are some diners facing discrimination?
I scream. You scream. Some of us scream for scream-free restaurants
Make your kid more restaurant-friendly

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Filed under: Favorites • Kids in Restaurants • News • Restaurants • Service


soundoff (831 Responses)
  1. touzes.tv

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    October 12, 2014 at 9:53 pm |
  2. mother of an autistic child

    My son has autism so I understand this story all to well

    March 28, 2014 at 9:29 pm |
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  4. jo cypher

    I just want to say whT a wonderful story
    I have 2 children with asperger and its so hard with the public sometimes when they dont understand the meltdowns

    December 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
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    November 30, 2013 at 1:58 am |
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    October 26, 2013 at 3:32 am |
  8. JellyBean

    To all the negative commenters that derided 7-year-old Arianna, she would forgive you for your ugly comments. You should be ashamed.

    Wonderful story, thank you for posting.

    October 14, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  9. shoaib

    Compassion is like a baton in relay race. People will always pass it on.

    Interesting blog on compassion here:

    http://blogs.arynews.tv/the-power-of-compassion/

    “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
    ― Aesop

    October 14, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  10. M Huffman

    Because my grandson is on the spectrum I often recognize when someone else is on the spectrum. I work part time with a photography company that does high school senior photos and prom and ring dance photos. I was recently talking to a young man who was having his senior photos made and the father approached me and told me that his son was autistic. I replied that I thought he might be. The father said that the young man didn't understand anything i said. My response was that he might not but then again we really didn't know what he understood and retained since he was nonverbal. Amazingly the young man smiled slightly. I always try to compliment special needs kids at the dances and at photography sessions and the responses are always positive!

    September 29, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  11. Matt

    If Ms. Wells or Mr. Cattermole ever consider employment at a hospital in Ventura, CA or Detroit, MI in customer service or even social work (after attaining a degree), you are more than welcome to contact me. Respond to the post and I will email you back. Thank you very much for being a shining example.

    September 6, 2013 at 3:32 am |
  12. Derek

    This was a great story until:

    “Moments like the one from Midvale happen in our restaurants every day, at every table, at every Chili’s across the country."

    Seriously? They obviously not been to the same Chilies that I have..

    August 8, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  13. hardwired

    Sometimes when I'm having a bad day, I'll come back and re-read this story. The waitress and the manager are my kind of people.

    August 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  14. Keenan Upshaw

    Frightening now i will by no means purchase a single again

    August 1, 2013 at 5:01 am |
  15. burger

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    July 15, 2013 at 2:54 am |
  16. Andrea

    Those of us on here connected to someone with Autism inherently understand that situation. But instead of arguing and focusing on the negative, why not talk about the joyful things or the funny things sometimes? I was a foster parent of a girl with autism. I will call her "Kimmy". Kimmy spoke in third person a lot. So if I said " I am going to the store" Kimmy may say "you wanna go with me" which really meant I want to go with you. One day, we were in a Steak and Shake restaurant. Kimmy (seated in a vinyl booth) passed gas VERY loudly! I mean the entire restaurant heard it and turned to look at us. Red faced, I whispered "Kimmy what do you say?" as we were always working on manners and social skills. Kimmy stood up and loudly said "YOU NEED TO GO POOPY!!" So obviously, the whole place thought I had done it and Kimmy was chastising me for it! Thanks "Kimmy" :) Love that kid :)

    July 11, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  17. Jennifer

    To the people that think you can "discipline" a child out of autism and that this is spoiled bratty behavior. I have three kids, TWO on the spectrum, ONE not. So you are telling me that I parent my ONE child differently then the other TWO. Really? And she is my middle child to boot, so no, I did not change my parenting methods at the end or the beginning.

    July 5, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  18. Michael Carroll

    I am so happy that this story has gotten the attention that it truly deserves! I have an adult Asperger friend, 46 years old, who I call Joe King, just to save his true identity. Joe has been homeless and without a job for the past 11 years and I met him while driving my bus route 4 years ago. Joe has high functioning Aspergers which puts him off the charts in physics and mechanical engineering, however, Joe has problems with spelling and writing and will meltdown in a heartbeat if you try to make him do something. Joe frequently says " I would not trade the upside to get rid of the downside" , but he pays a price of being homeless and penniless. If you would like to hear more about my friend Joe, please go here: http://tinyurl.com/pu5onmf

    June 27, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  19. Khawar

    Please see my research. It might help find a cure.

    http://www.slideshare.net/khawar.nehal/khawar-autism-presentation27april20131

    http://www.atrc.net.pk/cms2/index.php/component/content/article?id=101

    June 11, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  20. ham

    Heya i am for the primary time here. I found this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to provide one thing back and help others like you helped me.

    June 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  21. Khawar Nehal

    Edit

    How to fix autism by Khawar Nehal

    Date : 13 April 2013

    I first found out about autism when I say the movie mercury rising. That was many years ago. About max 1 year after the movie was released.
    Then I did some reading and found that it could be related to mercury and heavy metals.

    This was based on information where mothers said they saw their child become autistic two weeks after being vaccinated. The vaccines in large bottles had 60% mercury as a preservative because multiple needles are used and multiple shots can be given. This reduces costs. The capitalistic allopathic medicine makers countered this information in as many ways they could.
    Then the information is based on chelation therapy. After getting the heavy metals out of the kids over 2 years the kids are better. Meaning the symptoms of autism are significantly or completely gone.

    Some doctors in the NATO countries have lost their license for practicing allopathy because they allowed chelation therapy.

    The allopathic capitalists countered with a case where a kid died. In this case a chemical was used for chelation accidentally which was not DMSA but a chemical with a similar sounding name.

    DMSA can still be used to reduce the heavy metals.

    A woman wrote a book recently about how to avoid autism in your kids. In her research she found that autism children have a leaky gut and gastrointestinal problems. This causes the guts to lose iron to the outside of the body. Iron in the body prevents heavy metals from getting inside and accumulating in the body. If the iron levels drop, then the heavy metals accumulate. If heavy metals accumulate then the child or person becomes autistic.

    I read many years ago that alzihemers might be linked to aluminum. No idea who found that out but I used to pester my wife to buy expensive heavy steel pots instead of aluminum ones. One time she explained that aluminum pots spread the heat better. So I even saw a Rs 4500 pot which was steel on top and had a 1 cm thick aluminum base. Most expensive pot I ever saw or bought. Spreads the heat evenly and only steel touches the food. This was in a shop in Mohammad Ali society in Karachi.

    There was one research I read about where they take a hair sample of a kid and check for aluminum content. The autistic kids have more aluminum in their hair samples. So the autism is linked to aluminum. Other metals like chromium, copper and some more are also accumulated not just aluminum.

    If a human kid eats cement from the walls, dust, earth or other such stuff, then the kid is low in iron. This I learned from the Internet and some americans know this. A kid shall have a cookie in one hand and earth in another and the earth shall automatically be eaten. This is some built in human reaction to get iron into the body. I found this out because I know more than one kid eating earth.

    Allopathic doctors can increse iron levels fast by a blood transfusion and iron supplements. Other natural and better ways are to eat iron rich foods. If the kid or person is allergic to many iron rich foods, then you need to stop their consumption of junk foods and processed foods. This shall reduce their allergies of foods over time and then they can eat iron rich or any other foods like a natural human.

    I read a bit about iron. There is no way a body can excrete iron. All iron is recycled from dead cells. Iron is required for cell replication. If there is too little iron the heavy metals may accumulate and the person becomes autistic. But bacteria also cannot replicate easily. So the human becomes less prone to sickness. If there is too much iron then there can be other complications and the human can get bacterial infections more easily because the foreign bacterias can access more iron for their replication.

    Autistic children have a gut issue. Some cases say it may be due to allergies and gluten. So the first thing they do is transfer to a gluten free diet and the iron stop leaking and the heavy metals reduce and the autistic symptoms reduce consideraably. You also need to complement with a iron rich diet. Measure the iron level carefully not to over do it or else high iron issues may start. This iron fixing process can take months to two years. Better to do is slowly and naturally then too fast.

    There may be other reasons and types of autism. But this is my research so far. I hope people can help avoid the misinformation being spread by the allopathic companies and get results.

    The FDA banned multiple doctors from chelation therapy and after many years of stopping them, came out recently with an expensive drug with many side effects and does not cure the issue. Just sort of pacifies. Like a pain killer that they like to sell. Never fix the root cause but kill the pain and alarm. Pay the right affordable amount for ever in the name of hope.

    Other countries who used DMSA to reduce heavy metals over a six month research found that autism symptoms were reduced by a measurable and about 20 – 30%. So it seems like in 2 years you can fix it.

    There have been many cases where they can fix in 6 months but I would not want to take hopes up so fast.

    Procedure,
    1. check heavy metal levels,
    2. check iron levels,
    3. check leaky gut symptoms.
    4. Change foods to fix gut issues.
    5. Fix iron levels with food or other methods
    6. Chelate with DMSA if in a hurry. (The FDA is going to be furious because DMSA is a low cost drug).
    7. Measure symptoms. Do not let iron levels exceed normal levels.
    8. Inshallah you shall have cured autism completely.

    Disclaimer :
    I am not afraid of the FDA because I do not have an MBBS degree to lose. I am a researcher who is reporting and summarizing what I read.
    You can check this information and all research before taking any responsibility.
    Do not even think of blaming me if you cause problems. You are doing everything at your own risk and responsibility.

    I do not represent any FDA, NGO, or drug company. I do not even know who makes or patents DMSA.
    I am providing this information so you can check it before use and also provide some feedback of any other info you can find and summarize for the assistance of others against the major propaganda which I have seen by the drug companies.

    The doctors may know this but cannot practice it without the risk of losing their license to work. Many doctors have lost their work permits for this.

    But mothers have had results on their own.
    Actually most of this information is available from the work done by mothers who refused to take no as an answer to a solution to their kids issues.

    Non NATO countries which are not linked to the capitalist banking system have done actual scientific research to corroborate the heavy metal and DMSA information.

    So please check this information and lets get cracking to a solution instead of worrying about it.

    Regards,

    Khawar Nehal

    http://www.atrc.net.pk/cms2/index.php/component/content/article?id=101

    April 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • Jenny McCarthy

      Chelation kills and you're a moonbat.

      August 28, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Marion R.

      There is much valid information about autism in this post. It is true that all this information, and more, can be gathered on the Web. This person has put a lot of it together in a way that I find quite coherent. Gene complexes associated with autism have been studied, and more is being learned by researchers every day. But too little of that work has been translated into allopathic clinical practice. If you're in the U.S. and you want to treat autism, you can see a competent naturopathic physician who practices in that area, and they can help you implement the plan outlined above. I have a gene complex that makes it hard for my body to eliminate heavy metals. (A chelation challenge test 5 years ago revealed that the heavy-metal burden in my body was very high–the lead level was literally off the chart.) I've undertaken most of the measures this post recommends. My brain is much healthier for it. I was not diagnosed on the autistic spectrum as a child, but I have the diagnosis now, as an adult. I'm very high-functioning; in fact, I'm an information scientist, with a job. I stay high-functioning by eating a diet that works for my brain, gut and immune system; taking a mild chelator every day (malic acid); daily iron supplement; getting regular blood work (I work with an excellent naturopath) and adjusting mineral supplements as needed; exercising daily and generally living a very healthy lifestyle–because if I don't, my quality of life plummets. It's very motivating to feel better and think better from doing the things on that list! I'm not a big fan of DMSA or EDTA (chelators used medically for heavy-metal elimination) because they were too strong for my body to handle. But over time the malic acid seems to have helped me a lot. Eating a plant-based diet helps, too, because the body can eliminate heavy metals via the digestive system. Fiber not only helps them move along and out, it can bind some metals as well. In short, there is plenty that can be done to help, even by one person acting alone, if you have the right information and are willing to try some of these things that do no harm.

      September 27, 2013 at 6:14 am |
  22. regina morris

    This is the third story I have read involving acts of kindness by Chil's servers. If I take my high functioning autistic 8 year old out for dinner, it's going to be at Chil'is.

    April 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  23. Chili's Server

    a kind act is a kind act. People are so critical. Worry about yourself, and don't leave rude comments. This is a beautiful story and if you disagree, don't waste your time commenting.

    April 3, 2013 at 12:18 am |
  24. Bec215

    I applaud the family and the servers for the way they handled the situation – but I also understand the frustration of patrons who are eating out and want to enjoy a quiet meal and are seated next to a screaming child – Autistic or not. The issue is not so much that the girl is Autistic, but like being on a plane seated next to a crying child, you are 'captive' and you paid money and you're annoyed to be disturbed. I am married to a man with Aspberger's, though his is relatively mild... In the end, what is sad is the rude treatment of customers in general that I see every day from embittered, poorly-paid service workers who are tired and consider their job a necessarily evil, rather than an opportunity. I worked my share of service jobs, and this server's behavior should be the norm – not a FB-worth post.

    April 2, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  25. Miss.Melissa♥

    God Bless you Arianna! And Lauren, Brad & Alex!
    This story made my day! Sincerely.
    I go through everyday living by this quote- "Be Kinder Than Necessary, Everyone you meet is facing a battle of some kind."
    I HOPE & Pray for others to do the same! We all are going through some type of struggle, its all about attitude! How you view the situations you are in can change everything!
    Never, Never, Never Give Up!!!!!

    April 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Gigi

      You are right... God bless you

      September 4, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  26. Bubba

    too many words in this story and not enough video

    April 2, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Audra

      You're ignorance is disgusting.

      April 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
  27. Joey T

    I don't discriminate. I scowl at all children in restaurants, not just the screaming ones.

    April 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Eric

      You use to be a child to buddy incase you forgot. The world would be a better place if more people were tolerant of others.

      April 2, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
      • TheBabySitter

        Maybe the only facial expression he was shown as a child was SCOWLING. Then it would be a learned behavior, and he thinks it's normal to just repeat this.

        April 2, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  28. Craig

    Hungry children in Africa wouldn't complain their hamburger is broken.

    April 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Truth™@Craig

      They likely would if they were autistic and the food served to them broke their usual routine. That is a key trigger for individuals with both Asperger's and autism.

      April 2, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
      • Craig

        This sounds more like a child who isn't getting her way from parents who are afraid to upset her. Rather than an authentic reaction from her disorder.

        April 2, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
        • craigsDad

          And you, Craig, sound like i should have pulled out in time !!!!
          Go stand in a corner moron !!!

          April 2, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
        • Bonnie

          Actually, Craig, that's a common misconception. Autistic children are extremely routine-oriented. The world is a scary, chaotic place to them, and the routine helps them feel calm and stay in control. Breaking a routine does often upset an autistic child, and it is *not* a result of the child being spoiled or overindulged. It *is* something that most autistic children can learn to control over time, but this takes years of training and practice, often through expensive therapies that aren't covered by insurance and therefore aren't avaialble to many children who need them.

          When my autistic 12-year-old was young (maybe 7 or younger), he couldn't tolerate changes to his routine, even if the change was something he would normally enjoy. If it was naptime (something he detested, but did because that was the routine) and we suggested that we instead go to Chuck E. Cheese (something he loved and begged for), he would have a meltdown and refuse to go. it was naptime, and no matter how much he disliked naptime, it was intolerable to skip naptime in favor of any other activity, even one he enjoyed. He just couldn't handle that change.

          After many years of practice (both for us and for him), we know how to prepare him for change ahead of time, he knows better how to calm himself down when he feels that he is hitting his tolerance threshold, and we know how to recognize when he is on the edge and needs a quiet place to de-stress. This has taken *a lot* of work, though, and we're thousands of dollars in debt due to expensive therapies as mentioned above. It would be very common for a 7-year-old autistic child receiving a different product than expected (especially a favorite food!) to have a meltdown, and it would have nothing to do with being spoiled. The child simply doesn't yet have the frustration tolerance or skills necessary to calm herself.

          April 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
        • Marie

          Craig...I am really hoping that your comment was an intentional attempt to cause a stir for whatever reason; as I cannot believe that someone would present such an ignorant and uncultured comment. I have been teaching children with autism for 7 years; some children being very low functioning, and some that go on to graduate with a regents diploma and are able to attend college. Before I continue, just reading this article, speaking as a simple human being and not taking into account the fact that I professionally work with individuals with autism; I was so overjoyed to learn that there are wonderful moments of sincerity and kindness in the world today. Individuals with autism are such beautiful human beings with amazing talents and personalities; they just live a different kind of life with different difficulties than that of a neurologically normal person. So Craig, to enlighten you just a bit, for an autistic child, a cheeseburger cut in half can cause frustration and anxiety at the level that any normal person would feel when losing a job lets say, and in some cases multiply that by 10. It is very difficult for an autistic child to process and to communicate feelings and emotions as well as how to appropriately handle disappointment; in many cases tantrums, meltdowns, shutdowns, aggressiveness – these types of behaviors are very very common. These behaviors are impulsive and in more cases than not, unintentional. For you to indicate that it is just a spoiled kid and bad parenting, maybe take notes on how perfectly the waitress and manager responded to the situation while not even knowing the situation. As human beings, shouldn't we try to remember that everyone has obstacles to work through and not pass judgment right away. Even in the event of a "spoiled child", is it really your place to call that child spoiled. What you should have commented on is how much you'd love to shake the hand of the waitress and manager that treated that little girl with respect and kindness. If we all shared even with strangers a little bit of kindness, we'd have a lot less heartache in the word.
          Think about this after you read this: a former student of mine, very low functioning, once said to me "I love you when I see your teeth".. in other words he was happy to see me smile at him. That's what made him happy. It's the simple things in life that make the world a better place – simple things like bringing a new cheeseburger to that little girl!

          April 3, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
        • flora

          Go educate yourself about Autism Craig. Find a class or something. Ignorance is no excuse!!!!!!!!!!

          April 5, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
        • Jennifer Caro

          Craig, BINGO!!! I work with these kids everyday! I get some of them are fixated on certain things, I know this. I'm thinking this lazy mom could of cut the burger in half for this kid and if that's not good enough then some discipline is the next step. These parents are LAZY and feel Entitled to Everything!! I don't buy this story and I feel sorry for whatever teacher has to deal with these high maintenance parents lol

          May 8, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
        • NyteShayde

          Craig, your a wretched human being.

          Jennifer Caro, you're a liar. You haven't worked with these kids or you'd understand them better. You'd know very well that this isn't a parenting issue. If you had bothered to READ the article you'd realize that the woman was her older sister, not her mother and the burger was already cut in half, hence it was "broken". You and Craig need to get together and jump off a cliff.

          September 12, 2013 at 12:29 am |
    • donna

      Seriously Craig, do you know any children or adults with autism? This is not a child who is being a brat, this is a child with a medical condition. It is not something you grow out of, although you may learn to cope.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002494/

      April 2, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
      • Jennifer Caro

        This child needs to learn discipline...You don't get your Way everytime just b/c your autistic...

        May 8, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
        • Ryan

          I don't believe for a second you work with individuals like this or you would understand what they are dealing with on a daily basis. I do work with autistic children and see this everyday. Great job by the individuals at Chili's, one of my favorite restaurants.

          June 6, 2013 at 10:07 am |
        • NyteShayde

          She's a flaming liar is what she is.

          September 12, 2013 at 12:30 am |
    • Nidia

      Hi Craig, I recommend you to educate yourself about Autism ... If you are not knowledgeable about the disorder, then don't make dumb comments about it...

      April 2, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
    • Natasha

      Hi craig, really!,,, It disgusts me that you would even waste your time to make a comment like that. My son is also autistic and it hurtful and ignorant of you to make a comment like that. I wish you lots of luck in this world wasting your time upsetting poeple. Poeple like you are really the problem and not the autistic children. If you ever came to my restaurant, it would be you that should not be serve.

      April 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • kelly

      Hungry non disable children in Africa is what u mean.. u obviously have no understanding about the Autism!

      May 21, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  29. Bob

    Gia, are you really that uneducated? You must have worked hard to achieve that under the weight of whatever rock is above you.

    April 2, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  30. dissidentfairy

    What a wonderful story. It actually brought tears to my eyes. If everyone showed empathy and compassion at all times the world would be a much better place. We don't know what other people go through. People we meet might be dying, or maybe they've just experienced a tremendous loss. For all we know a harsh word or a stare out of place just might be all it takes to throw them over the edge. Autism seems to be on the rise which is baffling to me. It makes me wonder if our environment is somehow responsible for this sudden surge in the condition. My heart goes out to the families who are coping with this every day of their lives, and I sincerely hope that a cure for it is found. I'd also like to extend a big thank you to those of you who show compassion and care:)

    April 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  31. Julie

    I have a beautiful 15 year old son with Aspergers. Reading this story made me cry because I do remember visits to restaurants when he would not eat because food was "different." Times when he would melt down because he was overwhelmed, Relatives who said it was due to poor parenting. My husband and I spent a lot time taking him to therapy, involved in play groups, aspergers summer camps -basically anything we could find to help him and ourselves.
    He will always be autistic. He hates crowds and loud noises but no longer melts down. He manages high school like the average teen, enjoys soccer and loves watching Psych. He is so worth all the effort, challenges and prayer. To parents engaged in this struggle, you have my compassion and my hope that your child will find a way. To others I would say, a little sensitivity costs little. One of the greatest things my son has learned from years of being considered the weird kid is his empathy for others. He doesn't care if someone acts or looks differently. What matters to him is that each person is treated fairly. He is my hero.

    April 2, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story Judy. You are my hero!

      April 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • dissidentfairy

      I know...it's Julie....not Judy....sorry for that:)

      April 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • fox foxx

      I would rather sit with your child than next to some goddam "normal" idiot yelling in his phone thats turned up so loud you can hear both sides of the conversation! Your child has a reason the cell phone dumbasses dont, except stupidity.

      April 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • MonkeyMama

      Your son sounds like an awesome kid! Good job!

      August 7, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  32. Will

    I don't have autism and I would send back a burger cut in half too. That's a real goddamn travesty right there.

    April 2, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • kev66

      If that wasn't so damn funny, I would have been a little pissed at it,
      But it was funny!

      April 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  33. fran

    So we have high-functioning autism, low-functioning autism,neuro-typical (my favorite!), melt-downs, kids being bratty!. I can't keep up with it all. How do you know when the parents are lousy parents and the kids out of control monsters?Why has autism become all the rage now. We have a society that labels and attaches no consequences for actions: just pandering and care-taking

    April 2, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Jason

      So clearly you haven't checked out what all of those mean. The difference between poor parenting and 'bratty children' vs autistic children, or children with other issues, is that they don't have control of their feelings or actions. They will react even if they are afraid of the consequences. I'll file you with the 'shots made my child retarded' intellectuals.

      April 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • nukyuhler

      I agree completely. As as with any neurological diagnose (ADHDbeing a prime example), a spectrum disorder can become a crutch for bad parenting and a general lack of accountability. My son's Aspergers is much more severe than my own but I don't allow discourteous behaviors or meltdowns especially in public. He requires specific parenting strategies from me and he needs to understand himself as much as possible and learn mitigating behaviors. Over-diagnosis is harmful because it takes resources from those who really need it and removes accountability for bad behavior on the part of kids and their parents.

      April 2, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
      • jjsask

        @nukyuhler...Well aren't you just the perfect parent! We are raising a child with Asperger's and have encountered many problems, meltdowns, inappropriate behaviours at school, in sports, at restaurants, etc. We have worked hard to help our child to overcome this and the occurences of these behaviours are getting less & less, but never would I call someone out because their autistic child has a meltdown in public. What a hypocrite you are!

        April 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
      • Mom

        Yes, same situation here. My child's disorder was way less severe than was mine, and I pass for "normal" on most days – though it was not always that way. She is now an adult, and darned functional. I did rearrange my life to accommodate what she needed and we did have set routines and rules. I can't begin to count the number of times we had to have our food bagged up and leave a restaurant when she couldn't manage on days when it looked like it was going to go well at the start. It goes with the job, you do what you have to do until the child is able to manage. I feel very fortunate that mine has grown to be a happy, well-functioning adult and that she was able to gain internal control long before the girl in this story. I shudder to think of the hell I put my own parents through – I remember the "throw self on floor and flail and scream" moments. I also remember what I was feeling at those times, and so I can cut a child having a meltdown a lot of slack – that kind of fear is just beyond explaining to someone who has not felt it. And I really do sympathize with those whose kids will never get to the point of passing for "normal". It seems that some people love to be able to blame someone for everything. Sometimes there is no "blame", it's just how things are. Nobody asks for this. Yes, I also worry about people being given the diagnosis when it is not accurate – overdiagnosis – that doesn't help a misdiagnosed child and it drags the rest of us down when the general public is the audience. There are periods when a disease becomes the media darling, and then it eventually bores people and they move on to the next, dismissing it all as yesterday's news. Except those of us who have lived with it, we never get to move on. I wish my family lived where the people who worked in this restaurant live. What a wonderful story, how kind and understanding they were. I wish I could say I'd ever encountered people like that, what a bright spot that would have been in my life. But, sadly, we just got the dirty looks and the nasty comments wispered just loudly enough so people would be sure we heard. Which we pretty much learned to disregard – we could only do what we could do. And then you go on with life, and you pity the people who are so selfish and uncaring.

        April 2, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
      • NyteShayde

        There is a huge difference between Aspergers and low functioning autism. A huge chasm of a difference. My daughter is considered a high functioning autistic and is NOT misdiagnosed. No child in my household has ever been allowed poor behavior without consequence. But my daughter has been known to become over-stimulated and shut down or have a crying jag because of it. It certainly wasn't because she wasn't used to the word no or because she had behavioral problems. You're either a lying twit or you have no right to be a parent.

        September 12, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • Really?

      Seriously? It's probably become "all the rage" because as time goes on, more and more becomes known about this common and challenging disorder. With all the research that's been done over the past 10 years we've opened up the realities of autism and the different severity that comes with it. Unless I'm completely misunderstanding your statement you sound incredibly naive. Wow.

      April 2, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • chance margheim

      Another uneducated person claiming to know it all. Why don't you leave it to the experts who have studied autism and work with them professionally? What's next? Berating a student or child with tourettes for cursing inadvertently? Shame on you.
      Sincerely, a teacher who knows better.

      April 2, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • TeacherMommy

      How can you tell the difference between a child with a disability behaving in a way that is consistent with their neurology and a bratty, out-of-control child with lazy parents?

      You can't. Not in the 2 minutes that you see them in the grocery store, or even in the 45 minutes that you sit next to them in a restaurant.

      That's why it's important to remember that you don't know everyone's story and just give people the benefit of the doubt. Even if the child doesn't have autism, he may have recently suffered the loss of his mother, or he might have been inadvertently deprived of his nap and be hysterically exhausted, or his father might be having an "off" day (something that I know even the very best parents occaionally have).

      I think the better question, fran, is why do you have a need to make a judgment about what is wrong with another human being? Is it really so unreasonable to expect that people would offer others a little grace?

      April 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  34. Michele

    This story is beautiful and touching. And, I'll be eating at Chili's in the near future to show my support.

    April 2, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
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