A superhero in the person of a theme park employee saved this boy with autism and his family’s day.
Ralph, a 9-year-old boy with autism, is a huge fan of Spider-Man. So when his parents took him to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park in Florida, he was set on doing one thing – to get on the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride.
Since the attraction was located near the park’s exit, his parents decided to save the best ride for last.
Ralph patiently waited and enjoyed the other rides that came before Spider-Man. All the while, his excitement was building up as they approach the last island where his much-anticipated ride is.
When his family finally got there, Ralph’s eyes twinkled with excitement. They were given his handicap-access tickets which would make the waiting time more bearable for him, then they went and looked for a place where they could sit and wait for their turn.
The 15-minute wait drove Ralph crazy, yet he remained calm all throughout – until the theme park staff broke the news: the Spider-Man malfunctioned.
“Ralph, understandably, lost it. (Wouldn’t you?). My husband and I know the signs. We could see it coming, like an oncoming train. And yet we couldn’t dodge out of the way. There was nowhere else to go. The autistic meltdown was GOING to HAPPEN. And happen it DID,” Lenore Koppelman, Ralph’s mom, wrote on a Facebook post.
While the others were attempting to exit the ride and the gift shop attached to it, Ralph collapsed on the floor and began “sobbing, screaming, rocking, hyperventilating, and truly struggling to breathe”.
Lenore tried to help her son up so he wouldn’t get trampled on by people, but her attempts were unsuccessful. Then suddenly, a woman who worked there named Jen Whelchel came to their rescue.
Jen encouraged her to leave her son on the floor and let him be. Then she did something unexpected – she got down on the floor with Ralph and rested next to him while he was having an epic meltdown. She spoke to the boy calmly and told him that it was okay for him to feel upset. Jen reassured him that she would feel the same way too if it happened to her. The woman made him feel understood.
Eventually, Ralph felt better and got up from the floor. Jen told him that he could have anything up to $50 from the gift shop. The boy who has autism ended up getting a tiny notebook, a pen, and a tiny ID tag that had Spider-Man’s face on it. Afterwards, the grateful boy thanked her and Lenore hugged her for the longest time, several times even.
As it turns out, Jen wasn’t the only person who would show Ralph kindness during that day. There were two employees from a park restaurant who found Ralph a pencil to doodle with when they only had pens. There was also a woman who let him ride the Dr. Seuss-themed carousel twice in a row. Lastly, there was a locker attendant near the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster who guided the family through the ride’s “back way” so they can skip the stairs.
Lenore shared the whole experience on Facebook, and it has already been shared thousands of times. She thanked the “magical people” who made Ralph feel special during their park visit.
“THANK YOU for treating him with SO much kindness and patience. THANK YOU to your supervisors and whomever trained you so well. THANK YOU for paying such close attention. THANK YOU for BEING THERE for us today, and for making us feel like Ralph’s well-being was your top priority,” Lenore wrote.
Since Ralph didn’t get on the Spider-Man ride on that visit, the family plans to take another trip – but this time, they’ll make sure to go to the Spider-Man ride first.