Lenore Koppelman, her husband and young son, Ralph, were enjoying a day at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida this year when the unexpected happened.
Ralph, who is “awesomely autistic” had waited the whole day at Universal to ride the Spider-Man ride—something he was greatly looking forward to. The last ride on his check-list for the day, Ralph was extremely patient as he waited for his turn on the ride. And then emotional tragedy struck when the ride broke down just as Ralph was next to board. This heartbreak was too much for Ralph to bear—understandably so—and he fell to the ground in what his mother refers to as an “autistic meltdown.”
Koppelman took to Facebook to share the events of that day, both heartbreaking and inspirational:
“I would like to share something incredibly special with you all. A day we will never forget. Today we took our little boy Ralph to Universal Orlando Resort for the first time. Ralph is awesomely autistic, and we are proud to be a neurodiverse family. As wonderful, loving, intelligent and incredible as Ralph is, sometimes he struggles. (Don’t we all?) When he struggles the hardest, he can have something known as an “autistic meltdown”. Some people who are not educated about autism might see it as a temper tantrum. But the fact of the matter is that it is not the act of a spoiled and naughty child. It’s a cry for help. This is Ralph’s way of saying ‘I don’t know how to monitor and regulate my emotions right now. I need help, please! I’m scared! I’m overwhelmed! I want to feel better and I don’t know how!'”
After a day of excitement and patience, Ralph was deeply looking forward to riding the Spider-man ride. Koppelman writes, “First I should explain that Ralph was EXTREMELY excited to ride the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure. He kept on asking us if the ride was coming up soon, and we would reassure him and say “Soon, Baby. Soon. First there are other rides before that one. That one is at the end. It’s the last island. So we have to ride the other ones first. Okay?” He was SO patient for SO long. As patient as he possibly could be. He would say “Okay” and sigh, and then enjoy the next ride. But all the while, the excitement was building up to the pinnacle of his day: The Spiderman ride near the exit of Islands of Adventure.”
It was then, just as Ralph and his parents approached the Spider-Man ride and were about to get on that an employee announced the ride has broken and would need to be closed for repairs; a fact that was just too much for Ralph to process.
“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,” Koppelman wrote.
Ralph collapsed to the floor while people were trying to leave the Spider-Man ride, “sobbing, screaming, rocking, hyperventilating, and truly struggling to breathe,” The Washington Post commented.
It was then that an employee, Jen, rushed over to assist, saving the day and bringing powerful comfort to a hurting and disappointed young boy:
“A woman who worked there named Jen came over… no… no, she RUSHED over… and while I frantically kept trying to get him to stand up so he wouldn’t get trampled on by people, she encouraged me to leave him on the floor if that is where he needed to be. Then she did this. She got down on the floor WITH HIM. She rested next to him while he cried his heart out, and she helped him breathe again. She spoke to him so calmly, and while he screamed and sobbed, she gently kept encouraging him to let it all out. She told people to keep on walking around them, so they would stop standing there and staring. And then she told him it was okay for him to be sad and feel this way. She understood. She would feel the same way too. His feelings were validated. And she told him he could lay there with her as long as he needed to until he felt better.”
“Eventually, he DID feel better. So they got up, and she told him he could have something from the gift shop to help him feel even better still.”