Parents with special needs children will tell you that their child is just like any other kid — except for a few struggles in their everyday lives. But there are many people who still don’t fully understand what it’s like to have a child with special needs, so for parents, the few individuals who can empathize and go out of their way to help their differently abled child truly seem like a superhero.
For mom Lenore Koppelman, those superheroes are the staff of Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, who went beyond their duties to make sure that her son, Ralph, who had autism, had a memorable time in their theme park.
In a lengthy (and now viral) Facebook post last May 29, 2019, Lenore described their day in the park as “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,” Lenore shares.
The mom describes her son as “wonderful, loving, intelligent, and incredible,” but just like any other child with autism, he struggles sometimes. “When he struggles the hardest, he can have something known as an ‘autistic meltdown,’” Lenore explains. “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.”
Lenore shares that Ralph’s meltdown means that he’s scared and overwhelmed. He wants to feel better, but he just doesn’t know how. Unfortunately, one of his meltdowns happened during their day at Universal Studios.
Ralph was looking forward to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride, but it took awhile to get there in distance and lines. When they finally arrived, Ralph could barely contain his anticipation at this point.
When it was finally his family’s turn, however, they found out the ride had malfunctioned. “[With] the vehicles right in front of us, we got the news that the ride had broken down. Everyone was very nicely asked to exit,” Lenore says.
Ralph understandably lost it. His parents knew the signs and what was going to happen next, but they were powerless to stop it. Ralph collapsed on the floor as people were exiting the ride — he was sobbing, screaming, hyperventilating, and struggling to breathe. Lenore tried get him to stand up so he wouldn’t get trampled on.
That’s when one of Universal’s staff, Jen, rushed over to help. She encouraged Lenore to leave Ralph on the floor, then proceeded to lay down next to him.
“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,” Lenore shares. “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.”
Jen told Ralph it was okay to be sad and that she would also feel bad if it happened to her. She validated the child’s feelings and let him know he could take all the time he needed to feel better.
Eventually, Ralph did feel better, and Jen rewarded him with a token from the gift shop. “He smiled. And thanked her,” Lenore notes.
Afterward, the mom asked Jen how she knew what to do during Ralph’s tantrum. She told her that “everyone at Universal Studios gets special training when it comes to people who are awesomely autistic, as well as other special needs.”
Lenore also commended other Universal Studios staff who attended to Ralph — the woman at the Dr. Seuss carousel ride who let Ralph ride again without having to get back in line, the women at the restaurant who made sure Ralph got a pencil so he could draw and calm himself down from the over-stimulation at the park, Augustin who saw them struggling with the lockers and hurried over to help, and their friend Sidney, who became their tour guide for the rest of the day so Ralph could stay happy.
Though their son was not able to get into the Spider-Man ride, Lenore says the staff’s kindness and patience were more than enough to make up for it. The fact that they paid such close attention and made their son’s well-being a top priority was magical, and Lenore wanted to make sure they got the praise they deserved.
There is always an opportunity for kindness. And it always makes a difference.