In rocking.” The more upset that Arnie gets,

the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,
children live with an obese mother, and the children must take over much of the
care of the house, and of each other. For example, Gilbert must take care of
and supervise his mentally ill younger brother, Arnie. The care includes
bathing him, putting him to bed, and taking Arnie to work with him. Throughout
the movie, Arnie appears to have symptoms similar to autism spectrum disorder,
and intellectual disability.

the movie, Arnie appears to fit the criteria for autism spectrum disorder. For example,
Arnie regularly repeats what others say, even if it is upsetting for others to
hear. This is an example of echolalia, or repeating words and phrases (Hooley,
Butcher, Nock, Mineka, 2017). When Gilbert tells his siblings that “Dad’s dead,”
Arnie repeats it over and over, eventually upsetting his mother (Hallström,
1994). This repeats throughout the movie. When Gilbert finds out that Ken Carver
passed away by drowning, Arnie again yells the word drown while they are at the

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criterion that Arnie fits for autism spectrum disorder is self-stimulation.
According to Hooley, Butcher, Nock, and Mineka, (2017) “self-stimulation
usually takes the form of such repetitive movements as head banging, spinning,
and rocking.” The more upset that Arnie gets, the more apparent
self-stimulation is. When Arnie is upset after Gilbert hits him, he begins to
smack himself in the head repetitively. In the scene when Arnie goes up to see
his mother while she is in bed, he discovers that she is unresponsive. After
several attempts to wake her, he becomes upset and smacks his head (Hallström,

to the DSM-5, “intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently
co-occur to make comorbid diagnoses…and social communication should be below
that expected for general developmental level (Hooley et al, 2017).” When Arnie
has his echolalia outbursts and says inappropriate things in certain situations,
Gilbert knows when to quiet him. This helps show that Gilbert has enough of a
developmental level to know that yelling or making motions of how someone died
are inappropriate, and Arnie does not have this level of understanding that how
he is joking could be considered wrong.

Arnie exhibits behavior similar to behavior in the mild intellectual disability.
The text states that adult intellectual abilities are like that of a young
child (Hooley et al., 2017). Arnie certainly appears to act as a younger child,
despite being almost eighteen years old. Another example of mild intellectual
disability is requiring supervision because people with this disability are not
able to see future consequences of their actions (Hooley et al., 2017). Arnie
requires supervision at all times because he tends to get away from his family
and climbs the water tower. He does not see that he could fall and get hurt.

some indicators of both autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability
are not shown in the movie. Arnie does not seem to show an “insistence on
sameness,” (Hooley et al., 2017). Although much of his time is spent with
Gilbert while he is making deliveries or working, he is eager to go wherever Gilbert
goes, and does not require a routine. To make a diagnosis for autism spectrum
disorder, there would need to be a knowledge of how long Arnie has had these
symptoms. More observation of his life and routines may be necessary, as well
as information on how he acted as a small child. To be more confident in
diagnosis of mild intellectual disability, an IQ test could help decide where
Arnie falls in the intellectual disability range.





disorders that Arnie has may have been hereditable due to biological factors. Some
mental disorders are genetically influenced (Hooley et al., 2017). Arnie may
have inherited a genetic vulnerability for autism or intellectual disability,
and would have been at a heightened risk for developing a mental illness. This could
be studied further by reviewing Arnie’s family history of mental illness. Another
biological theory on the development of autism spectrum disorder is de novo
mutations, or “mutations from an egg or sperm that are passed onto the child,
even though the mutation does not appear in the parent’s DNA. (Hooley et al.,
2017).” These mutations occur from sperm from older fathers. Although we do not
know Arnie’s fathers age, this idea of mutations could account for Arnie’s
disabilities. Yet another theory for Arnie’s intellectual disability is trauma
from birth. Accidents or difficulties in birth can lead to intellectual disabilities
(Hooley et al., 2017). Again, we do not know the circumstances of Arnie’s birth
or conception, so these could be valid theories for his behavior.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, has
positive messages in its depiction of a family dealing with a mental illness in
a loved one. Each person in the family takes turns caring for Arnie, and it shows
the frustration that can be present in caring for someone with a disability. The
movie also shows the good times that Gilbert and Arnie have together, such as
roughhousing in the yard. Gilbert indulges Arnie in his game of hide and seek.
Even the townspeople seem to care for, and are accepting of Arnie. The grocer
gives him candy, and lets him hang out while Gilbert works. Becky greets Arnie
as she would another person, and takes the time to spend time with him. At one
point, she even got him to swim after his disaster in the tub traumatized him. It
does not seem like Arnie is singled out and discriminated against because of
his differences.

the film has some negative aspects to it. Gilbert, presumably a teenager, is
expected to bathe his brother, provide for him with money he earns from his job,
and watch out for his brother. Although his other siblings sometimes take over
watching Arnie, much of his care falls to Gilbert. It is unfair for almost all
of Arnie’s care to fall to his brother who is still very much a child himself.
On top of care for Arnie, Gilbert must worry about house repairs and taking
care of his dependent mother. This could provide a message that it is
acceptable to allow a teenager to do all the care for a person with special
needs. At the beginning of the movie, Gilbert narrates that the family was told
that Arnie would be lucky to live past ten (Hallström, 1994). Other than this
information, it does not appear that Arnie has had any other medical care for
his mental illnesses. This could also be a negative for the mental health
profession in supporting the idea that people with mental illnesses do not need
to visit a mental healthcare provider.

the journal article Glutamate synapses in
human cognitive disorders, the authors attempt to study the causes of various
cognitive disorders such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder,
and schizophrenia. According to Volk, Chiu, Sharma, and Huganir, “Glutamatergic synapses convey most
of the fast-excitatory neurotransmission in the central nervous system (CNS),
and intact glutamate signaling is thus critical for the majority of sensory processing
and cognitive function. (2015).” With this idea, and mutations of this anatomy
can have devastating effects on functioning. In intellectual disability,
theories on how the disability developed have been tested and have been narrowed
down to gene mutation or environmental factors such as injuries during birth. However,
upon further review, the researcher found that many genes affect glutamatergic functions,
so gene abnormalities appear to be likely causes (Volk, Chiu, Sharma &
Huganir, 2015). Glutamate synapses could also be responsible in autism spectrum
disorders. The study states that, “early developmental time course of symptom
emergence in ASD…coincides with a period of rapid synapse formation and
maturation. (Volk et al, 2015). Perhaps mutation in the development period relates
to symptom emergence. This study seems to relate to the de novo mutations that
were apparent with autism spectrum disorder. However, in the movie, there was
no explanation of Arnie’s development as an infant into a child, so it is
difficult to diagnose the exact cause of Arnie’s disabilities.