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.