• Universal Studios worker comforts child with autism in midst of meltdown

    By: Natalie Dreier, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

    Updated:

    A 9-year-old boy from New York just wanted to ride The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. 

    It was going to be his and his family’s last ride of the day and he had asked whether it would be the next ride every time they checked off a ride from their list, The Washington Post reported

    But as the family was about to board the long-awaited ride, they were told it had malfunctioned and had to close. 


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    Lenore Koppelman and her husband, Steve Koppelman, knew what was going to happen -- their son Ralph, who has autism, was going to have a meltdown, according to the Post.

    “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,” Lenore Koppelman wrote on Facebook. “The autistic meltdown was GOING to HAPPEN. And happen it DID.”

    Ralph fell to the floor as other disappointed riders left the queue line. 

    Ralph was “sobbing, screaming, rocking, hyperventilating, and truly struggling to breathe,” Lenore Koppelman wrote in her post.

    But what happened next was not what you would expect in a crowded theme park.

    A worker from the ride told the family they didn’t have to leave and to let Ralph work through his disappointment. Then the worker, Jennifer Whelchel, lay down on the floor next to Ralph to comfort him, CNN reported

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    “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.”

    Whelchel also told people not to stop to watch and take photos of Ralph as he went through his episode.

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    Whelchel, who is called “Mama Jenn” by coworkers, has a nephew about the same age as Ralph who also has autism. She lay on the ground out of instinct and learning how to deal with her nephew’s meltdowns. She told the Post she wanted to be on Ralph’s level but didn’t want to impede on his space.

    Whelchel said she and other Universal employees do go through sensitivity and awareness training, but the mother of two said getting on Ralph’s level was not part of that training.

    After about 10 minutes, Ralph calmed down, got a drink of water and sat up, giving Whelchel an unprompted high five, The Washington Post reported

    She also pulled some strings to let Ralph have a on-the-house, $50 shopping spree at the park’s Spider-Man store.

    The family plans to travel back to Orlando so Ralph has a chance to ride the Spider-Man ride, CNN reported.

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