On a recent family vacation to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida, 9-year-old Ralph Koppelman had just one thing on the brain: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride.
His mom, Lenore Koppelman, chronicled the events of their day in a now-viral Facebook post that is winning the internet this week for ALL of the right reasons.
Ralph, who is “awesomely autistic,” spent the day patiently waiting and anticipating his chance to ride the Spider-Man ride, which was near the exit.
“He kept on asking us if the ride was coming up soon, and we would reassure him and say ‘Soon, Baby. Soon.’” Lenore writes in her post, saying it would be one of their last rides.
“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.”
When it finally came time to head to Spider-Man, it took everything in Ralph not to explode with excitement.
“The anticipation was driving him wild!” Lenore says.
After waiting the final 15 minutes for their turn to get onto the ride, Ralph was leaping for joy. He had made it!
“You should have seen the SMILE on his face. It was incredible.”
But things took a rapid turn just moments before they were about to board the ride.
“Then when it was almost our turn to board, and he could see the end in sight, the vehicles right in front of us, we got the news that the ride had broken down. Everyone was very nicely asked to exit. And Ralph, understandably, lost it. (Wouldn’t you?).”
Lenore says she and her husbands know the signs: the ones that point to a rare, but epic “autistic meltdown.”
“Some people who are not educated about autism might see it as a temper tantrum,” she writes. “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!’”
They could see it coming “like an oncoming train,” she says. But in such a crowded space with nowhere to escape to quickly, it was impossible to dodge the inevitable: “The autistic meltdown was GOING to HAPPEN. And happen it DID.”
“Ralph collapsed onto the floor while crowds of people were attempting to exit the ride and the gift shop attached to it. He began sobbing, screaming, rocking, hyperventilating, and truly struggling to breathe.”
Enter Jen: the REAL superhero of the Amazing Spider-Man attraction at Universal Studios.
“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.”
Lenore says it took about 10 minutes, but eventually Ralph “DID feel better.” And as the two stood up off the floor, Jen told the third grader that he could have anything he wanted from the gift shop up to $50 to help him feel even better.
He chose a small notebook and pen despite Jen’s larger and more expensive suggestions, and all was right in Ralph’s world again.
“He was exhausted and rattled, as we ALL get after one of his rare epic meltdowns. But what a relief it was that it was over. Thanks to Jen, and her knowledge about what to do.”
When Lenore asked Jen how she knew what to do, she explained that all employees at Universal Studios undergo special training on people who are “awesomely autistic” as well as several other special needs, so they can best assist when certain situations arise.
“I hugged her for the LONGEST time… several times, if I’m being honest. And then the entire family left the store and marched straight over to customer relations without a single pit-stop, to sing Jen’s praises.
I showed the sweet woman working there the photos of Jen with Ralph, and she got misty-eyed herself and hugged me. We showed each other our goosebumps on our arms and laughed and hugged yet again. And she ALSO told me how much training they get when it comes to helping people with various special needs.”
Lenore went on to send a shout out to every one of the awesome Universal employees that made their trip an absolute success. And Y’all, there were A LOT of awesome employees throughout their stay.
“A message to all of the people who work at Universal Studios: Please read this and know that my family and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I know Ralphie does too. THANK YOU for recognizing that Ralphie is a GREAT kid. A SWEET kid who just struggles with certain things (as we ALL do, neurodiverse or not).
THANK YOU for treating him with SO much kindness and patience. THANK YOU to your supervisors and whomever trained you so well. THANK YOU for paying such close attention. THANK YOU for BEING THERE for us today, and for making us feel like Ralph’s well-being was your top priority. He is OUR top priority because we love him more than ANYTHING and ANYONE, but you all only just met him today. And yet you behaved as if you were family. And we TRULY cannot thank you enough.”
She ended her post saying that despite how exhausted she was from their eventful day, she refused to go to bed until taking the time to celebrate the incredible staff that made their trip truly magical.
“And Mama Jen? We love you most of all.”
In an update to the post, Lenore said they never did get to go on the Spider-Man ride, but they intend to save up and take another trip sometime in the future.