I’m going to take a short break this week from the scientific philosophies, the tips and tools, the family stories, and the therapy program discussions and simply share an amusing correlation I made about Autism and a beloved, lesser-known cartoon character. Please note that by no means am I undermining, making fun of, or minimizing anything about my child or any of the brilliant angels on the Autism Spectrum. This is just something I found entertaining and a wee bit insightful about perspective.
My children used to religiously watch Cartoon Network’s “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.” This cute and creative show is about imaginary friends being left to fend for themselves after the children that created them outgrew them and the elderly woman that founded a home for them to be re-adopted one day.
Somewhat mid-season, a character was introduced named Cheese. Wikipedia describes him as “a simple, pale-yellow-colored friend who debuted in “Mac Daddy”. He appears to be somewhat madcap and dim-witted, often saying incoherent or non-sequitur phrases, and breaking into sudden bouts of screaming when frightened or when he doesn’t get his way. Cheese likes goldfish crackers, cereal, juice, chocolate milk (although he is lactose-intolerant), and so on..”
Here are some other things I noted about Cheese:
- He is never actually mischievous, he just does things in the moment that please him
- The other characters see him as annoying to be around
- He is unable to understand anyone else’s viewpoint or perception
- He tries to do things himself and gets frustrated when he can’t
- He tries to fit in with the other friends but is very socially awkward
- He is addicted to cereal and milk, though his body can’t tolerate them (gluten and casein!)
- He is perceived as “slow” yet he is actually quite brilliant, especially in the episode where the Headmaster punched in a random code on the new alarm system and locked everyone out of the house. Cheese actually remembered the entire (ridiculously long) sequence by tone and could repeat it verbatim; however, he would only agree to help if they made a game out of it and EVERYONE played along.
- He repeats phrases and gets “stuck” on one or two topics of choice
- He is a “space invader”: he often crashes into Bloo while playing or follows him around within an inch or two of him
- He has no regard for danger and needs to be watched carefully
- He is prone to wandering, and even took a bus through town by himself because of an innocent, unexplained thought he was compelled to follow
- He is very loud, but he can’t tell that it’s not a normal volume
- Some typical sensory experiences that other kids would enjoy frighten or bother him
By now, I’m sure you’re starting to see where I’m going with this
Maybe some viewers initially see Cheese as “that annoying kid with behavior issues who lacks discipline from his creator” (sound familiar?). I see this character as the quintessential snapshot of a high-functioning Autistic child. In fact, he’s a lot like my son. A lot.
His recurring appearances sprinkled throughout the show illustrate a journey with the other characters that really hits home for me. It’s a journey that goes from avoidance and rejection to an eventual understanding of him. Ultimately the characters move into compassion and acceptance of Cheese into their community… and even offer their friendship.
Whether that was the creator’s intention or not, that’s my takeaway! Bravo, Craig McCracken.
Here are a couple of short videos to enjoy if you’re not familiar with the character!