Lenore Koppelman and her husband, Steve, took their nine-year-old son, Ralph, to Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in Florida on a trip from New York. Throughout the visit, Ralph patiently cycled through all the park’s rides. However, he wanted to get on the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. The nine-year-old needed to wait, as the attraction was situated near the exit. The child “bubbled over with excitement” when it was time to ride. Unfortunately, the Spider-Man ride broke just as the ride vehicles were in sight.
Koppelman wrote in a Facebook post that Ralph, who has autism, “lost it.”
|Photo Credit: Lennor Koppelman (via CNN Health)|
"We could see (the meltdown) coming, like an oncoming train. And yet we couldn't dodge out of the way," she explained. The child lay sprawled on the floor of the exit, crying and screaming to the point Ralph could not breathe. Guests had to step around him and his parents attempted to lift him off the ground. Fortunately, Spider-Man ride employee Jen Whelchel swung to save the day.
Welchel lay down next to Ralph, allowing the boy to cry, helping him breathe, and diverting foot traffic. She told the child it was okay to be sad, Koppelman narrated. The pair lay on the ground until Ralph felt better. Ralph then picked out Spider-Man merchandise from the gift shop after they got up. The little boy smiled and thanked Welchel and Koppelman hugged the employee. Koppelman’s viral Facebook viral post was shared more than 34,000 times. She thanked and acknowledged the “magical people” who made her son feel special. Koppelman tells Allison Klein of American daily newspaper The Washington Post, “I noticed his level of upset was more than the regular level of upset."
|Photo Credit: Lennor Koppelman on Facebook (via CNN Health)|
But Koppelman did not just thank Welchel. She also credited two restaurant employees who gave Ralph a pencil “when they only had pens,” as well as the woman who permitted the boy to ride the Dr. Seuss-themed carousel twice and the locker attendant near the Revenge of the Mummy rollercoaster. The latter helped lead the family through the ride’s “back way.”
However, Welchel’s empathy “made all the difference." Steve Koppelman states, “But instead of getting angry or impatient with Ralph, it was heartening to see employees, especially Jen, jump in and really know how to kind of get on his level and just de-escalate things.”
Thousands of users thanked Koppelman and lauded Whelchel and Universal Orlando “for their sensitivity.” It was revealed that employees are trained on how to serve park attendees with autism. Ralph did not ride the Spider-Man attraction, but his family plans “to take another trip and get in line as soon as they get there.”