Hollie Bellew-Shaw’s fourth-grade daughter, Kenlee, has autism, so when things got loud in the cafeteria of her Alvin, Texas, elementary school, Kenlee became overwhelmed by all the noise.
In a Facebook post from Sept. 10, Hollie shared a photo of her daughter wrapped in a blanket, lying on the stage in the cafeteria. Next to her is Ms. Esther, a custodian at Passmore Elementary School. “Our school custodian is literally the best, sweetest individual in the world,” Hollie, who also works in the Alvin Independent School District, wrote in the photo’s caption. “The Hippy wanted no part of being in the cafeteria this morning with all the noise so she laid down w/her blanket on the stage. When Ms. Esther saw her she came and laid next to her and patted her back.”
Children with autism are prone to meltdowns that can be triggered by things such as changes in routine and sensory overload. According to Verywell Health, a child having a meltdown might make loud noises, engage in compulsive, repetitive behaviors, “self-stimulate” by pacing or rocking, and participate in “sensory avoidance,” which what Kenlee did by covering herself with her blanket.
During a meltdown, it’s important to help the child feel safe and supported, which is exactly what Ms. Esther did by lying down with Kenlee. Ms. Esther stayed calm, and did not shame Kenlee for reacting to the noise. The presence of something warm and familiar, along with the presence of someone she trusts, likely went a long way in helping Kenlee feel more comfortable.
Ms. Esther held Kenlee and comforted the girl to distract from her feelings of sensory overload. Hollie told ABC13 that for the past three years, Kenlee and Ms. Esther have fostered a real connection. “Kenlee adores Ms. Esther. She always greets my daughter with kind words and a hug, which is so special to her.” Hollie also said that Kenlee runs to hug Ms. Esther whenever she sees her in the hallway at school.
“All schools should be so lucky to have their own Angel on campus,” Hollie said on Facebook. The Alvin Independent School District reposted the photo Hollie shared and added, “This goes to show you that a kind word, a hug and a little compassion are all it takes to make a huge difference in a child’s life.”
We’re so glad Kenlee is in a school environment where she has support. The shrieks and laughter that populate most elementary school cafeterias can be grating for anyone, but especially for someone with autism.