What’s So Familiar About Cheese?

Image from dvdverdict.com

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!

Tribute to Cheese

Cheese Alarm Code

Sensory Processing Disorder or Behavior Problems?

I could write several articles on EACH of the senses when it comes to this topic. There are so many variances and combinations of what each child with Sensory Processing Disorder experiences, and that’s WITHOUT Autism in the mix.

We tend to see a child that misbehaves and acts quirky and defiant. I often get told that my child lacks discipline. Folks, this is a neurological dysfunction. These children have no control over the way their nervous system processes sensory input.

I have a fantastic project in the works to share with you about Sensory Processing Disorder. But today, we’ll keep it short and sweet. Today we’re going to put ourselves in the shoes of a child with sensory integration issues.

What if:

  • Parts of your body were numb regularly, and you couldn’t tell if you were sitting in the middle or on the edge of your chair. Then you fell off the chair and got in trouble for it.
  • Your clothes felt as if they were made of steel wool and insulation.
  • The humming of the lights in your office sounded louder than your boss’ voice and you couldn’t pay attention to what he or she was instructing you to do for the meeting.
  • You walked into a restaurant to eat and could smell the cleaning supplies as if they were right beneath your nose. It made you too nauseous to eat.
  • Every little sound and movement competed equally for your attention – from bird sounds to footsteps down the hall to someone showing a co-worker how to change the copier paper across the office.
  • You broke things frequently because you couldn’t tell how hard you were squeezing or holding them. Then similar items fell through your hands the next time you tried to “do it better”.
  • You couldn’t tell when your bladder was full until the moment it was about to burst, but you weren’t allowed to take a break once you realized this.
  • The lights made you squint from the brightness every single day, delivering pounding headaches from the strain.
  • Whispers sounded like yells and light, affectionate brushes on your skin felt like sandpaper.
  • You felt assaulted by parts of your clothing – the seams in your socks, the tag in your shirt kept painfully nagging at you.
  • Every 15 or 20 minutes your muscles felt like they were going to burst and your nerve endings were on fire. The only relief would be from doing jumping jacks, running, or crashing into something, but you are not allowed to get up.
  • You know in your mind what you want to write but the message takes so long to get from your brain to your hand that you give up trying.

IMAGINE sitting in your living room and turning up the TV as loud as it will go. Imagine all the lights in the room had been replaced with 100-watt bulbs. Your chair is wobbly, you’re wearing your younger sister’s clothes that don’t quite fit, and your spouse is yelling for you to sit still and listen to him recount his day. All you can smell is the garbage that desperately needs to go out and the dog is scratching at the door urgently. When you try to tend to any of these things or seek refuge from them, you get yelled at; yet you don’t know why.

What if you couldn’t stop any of this? What if every single moment of every single day was like this for you?

What if you were just a child and didn’t know that it wasn’t like this for everyone? I challenge you to shake up your perspective a bit. It may not make your experience as a parent less exhausting or frustrating, but it WILL change your level of compassion and understanding. That’s when change really starts.