A Superhero’s Instincts Win the Day for a 9-Year-Old in Critical Need

Jennifer Whelchel rushed to comfort a boy in a show of solidarity.

Jennifer Whelchel and Ralph at Universal OrlandoCourtesy Lenore Koppelman

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It was a supreme meltdown—almost involuntary. A worker at Universal Orlando Resort, Jennifer Whelchel, didn’t scold, belittle, or dither. She knew just what to do when she saw a 9-year-old autistic boy “sobbing, screaming, rocking, hyperventilating, and truly struggling to breathe,” as the boy’s mom, Lenore Koppelman, put it.

“She got down on the floor WITH HIM,” Koppelman wrote on Facebook. “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.”

When Whelchel saw the boy, she thought of her 8-year-old nephew, who is also autistic, she told the Washington Post. She understood instinctively what had happened: The boy was waiting all day to ride the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man but it was malfunctioning—and closed—when he finally got there.

Without formal training in responding to autistic children, Whelchel had done exactly the right thing. After 10 minutes, she offered Ralph water and asked if he wanted to get up. Ralph spontaneously gave her a high-five.

Koppelman said she wrote the Facebook post to give cheer to other parents with autistic kids. The community responded with support, sharing their own stories of public meltdowns.

“I have an awesomely Autistic 5 year old little boy and this made me sob like a baby,” wrote one commenter.

“To often when we see small children or people with special needs having what we see as ‘Spoiled Tantrums’ we are all so quick to cast judgements upon them and their caregivers. We expect them to act NORMAL,” wrote another.

Here are some more Recharge stories to get you through the week:

  • Saving a neighbor. Two teenage Oklahoma brothers saw fire coming from the home of their 90-year-old neighbor across the street. Seth and Nick Byrd ran over to get Catherine Ritchie out while two friends got help. “This young boy was right there,” Ritchie said of 14-year-old Nick. “He picked me up, and I said, ‘I can walk,’ and he said, ‘We’re getting out of here.'” One of Ritchie’s 10 children, Missy Ritchie Nicholas, summed up her family’s gratitude this way: “Kids who are told about all the things they aren’t old enough to do saved the life of the most precious and beloved woman we know,” she wrote in a blog post. (KTUL)
  • Taking the lead. Finland has just pledged to go carbon neutral by 2035 and will underwrite its own Green New Deal to get there. The announcement by the incoming government followed a campaign in which 80 percent of Finns say urgent climate action is necessary and 70 percent say the government must do more. The plan would expand and improve the rail network, rapidly increase wind and solar power production, and cut fossil fuels and peat, which power about 40 percent of the nation’s energy. The head of the nation’s Green League party calls it “probably the most ambitious in the world” on climate issues. (The Guardian)
  • Dream not deferred. Just because the Trump administration won’t follow through on America’s plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill doesn’t mean you can’t. New York designer Dano Wall created a 3D stamp that can be used to superimpose a portrait of the civil rights leader over that of slaveholder Andrew Jackson, who was also responsible for the slaughter of Native Americans. Wall has sold out of his stamps and is producing more. “Putting Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill,” Wall said, “would have constituted a monumental symbolic change, disrupting the pattern of white men who appear on our bills, and, by putting her on the most popular note currently in circulation, indicates exactly what kind of a life we choose to celebrate.” Canada just won an international award for its $10 bill, which features civil rights leader Viola Desmond. (Washington Post)
  • Opening the (Sesame) mailbox. Readers responded passionately to last week’s Recharge on the black psychiatrist who was crucial to shaping Sesame Street’s development as a tool against racism. Carole Gealow of Minnesota wrote: “My 2 daughters are in their 50s now. Both grew up watching Sesame Street in their younger years. Both are accepting of all peoples regardless of age, color, cultural background, disabilities etc. Once I asked the youngest who her favorite [Sesame Street] person was. She said Gordon. I asked which one was he. She said the one with the mustache.” Added Beate Krohse, who grew up watching the show in Hanover, Germany: “Kids aren’t racists. Only adults can’t accept things they don’t know or fear of.”

I’ll leave you with this image of an endangered Karner blue butterfly, about the size of a quarter, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Twitter feed. Have a great week ahead!

More MotherJones reporting on Recharge

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