Theme park worker helps calm boy with autism by lying on floor with him during meltdown

Theme park worker helps calm boy with autism by lying on floor with him during meltdown
When 9-year-old Ralph, who has autism, became overwhelmed due to a ride closure at Universal's Islands of Adventure, a worker named Jen Welchel helped calm him down. (Source: Lenore Koppelman/CNN)

(CNN) - The mother of a 9-year-old boy with autism thanked an Orlando theme park worker for helping her son calm down when he got upset because a ride broke down before he could go on it.

Lenore Koppelman shared her family’s experience at Universal’s Islands of Adventure on Facebook. Her 9-year-old son Ralph, who has autism, had been eagerly waiting all day to go on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride, but when the family got to the front of the line, the ride broke down.

Ralph experienced a meltdown, which Lenore Koppelman describes as “a cry for help” that occurs when her son is overwhelmed and unable to regulate his emotions. The boy fell on the floor, screaming and crying, while other riders tried to exit.

Lenore Koppelman says she was trying to get her son to stand, so he wouldn’t get trampled when a ride employee named Jen Whelchel rushed over.

Whelchel lay down on the floor next to Ralph and spoke to him calmly, encouraging him to keep crying if he needed to. She also validated the 9-year-old’s feelings and told him it was OK to be sad, according to his mother.

Eventually, Ralph felt better, and Whelchel offered to buy him some Spider-Man goodies from the ride gift shop.

Both Ralph and his mother thanked Whelchel for what she did.

Steve Koppelman says the family has experienced their share of dirty looks and assumptions when Ralph has had his rare meltdowns before in public. He says Whelchel’s empathy and lack of judgment made all the difference.

Whelchel told Lenore Koppelman she knew what to do because Universal Orlando workers get special training on how best to serve guests with autism and other special needs.

Unfortunately, Ralph did not get to ride the Spider-Man ride, but his mother says the family plans to take another trip to the theme park. The Spider-Man ride will be the first one they go on.

Copyright 2019 Lenore Koppelman via CNN. All rights reserved.